Did you know that September welcomes ‘Gynaecological Cancer Awareness’ month? Don’t worry; we won’t be surprised if you weren’t aware. It seems that many of us have been programmed to see the word ‘gynaecological’ and shut down a bit. But we want to encourage the exact opposite, those gyno visits are not to be feared or avoided and we certainly shouldn’t be afraid to talk about them because it’s ‘taboo’!
Us girls need to stick together, learn about our own bodies and make sure we are always up to date with our latest checks because if we don’t, often it might be too late. That’s because one of the main gynaecological cancers, Ovarian, is actually known as the silent killer. By the time symptoms show themselves, if at all, the cancer may have developed to an advanced stage.
1 in 54 British women have a chance of developing ovarian cancer. That may seem quite low risk but ovarian cancer is now the 5th most common cancer and if it is not diagnosed early, your survival expectancy rate reduces greatly, with it reaching only 40% by stage IV. Here at Global Health we want to make sure all you ladies out there are more than aware of what you can do to reduce this chance.
What is Ovarian Cancer?
Ovarian cancer is a disease that can disrupt the normal function of the ovaries. If it’s left unchecked, it can affect other parts of the body too. Ovarian cancer occurs when abnormal cells within the ovary start to multiply, creating a tumour. But it’s important to note that not all tumours are cancerous. Non-cancerous tumours are called benign tumours. This means they don’t usually spread to other parts of the body. They may need treatment but they’re rarely life threatening. Malignant ovarian tumours are cancerous and can be life threatening. It’s important to catch cancers early because they can grow large enough to engulf most of the ovary and spread to other parts of the body too.
What’s My Risk of Developing Ovarian Cancer?
As we have already said, 1 in 54 British women will develop ovarian cancer. However, there are some factors that increase that risk:
Your family history
If two or more relatives from the same side of your family have had ovarian cancer under the age of 50 years, or there have been more than one case of ovarian and breast cancer in your family you may have a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer yourself. This is because you might have inherited a faulty gene known as the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation that creates a greater chance, 35-60%, of developing ovarian cancer. Make sure you know your family history and speak to your GP if you think this might affect you.
You also have an increased risk if any of the following cancers are in your family: ovarian, uterine (also known as womb or endometrial), colon, bowel or stomach cancer.
A rare condition called hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC), which runs in families, can slightly increase your risk of developing ovarian cancer. It can also increase your risk of developing bowel, womb, stomach, colon, pancreatic, biliary and bladder cancer. HPNCC is caused by inherited gene mutations (known as the MLH1, MSH2 and MSH6 mutations).
Your risk of developing ovarian cancer increases as you get older and most ovarian cancer cases occur in women over the age of 50 years. However, some types of ovarian cancer do appear in much younger women.
Other risk factors
In addition to age and family history, the following may slightly increase your risk of ovarian cancer:
A long menstrual history – which can result from one or more of the following:
Starting your period before 12
Going through the menopause after 55
Having your first child after 30
Not having any children
Not breast feeding
Endometriosis (a condition of the womb)
Using oestrogen-only hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
Smoking, which may increase your risk of developing mucinous ovarian cancer
What are the Symptoms?
Unfortunately, as we have already said, often there are no symptoms. However, knowing yourself and your body is always useful and you should keep an eye out for the following:
Persistent stomach pain • Persistent bloating • Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly • Needing to urinate more frequently •
Many of us get symptoms like this from time to time, and all of them may be more indicative of something else, however, the symptoms of ovarian cancer are distinct in that they are:
Persistent (they don’t go away unlike irritable bowel syndrome) • Frequent (you get them for more than 12 days a month) • Getting progressively worse • New (they started in the last 12 months) • Unusual (not normal for you) •
What should I do if I notice Symptoms?
If you think something’s changed with your body, don’t ignore it. And don’t be afraid to talk to your GP. Your doctor will find it helpful if you can give them an idea of what’s been happening and how often your symptoms tend to come and go. It’s easy to forget something important when you get to the surgery. Make sure prior to your appointment you note down each time symptoms occur, when you first noticed them and if they seem to be getting worse. So when you show this to your doctor, it’ll give them a better idea of what to do next.
Ovarian cancer isn’t the only gynaecological cancer; anything to do with your reproductive system can be classes as a gynaecological cancer. So make sure you know yourself, girls! Speak about these things, know your routines and most importantly if something doesn’t feel right don’t ignore it.
If you are concerned about gynaecological cancers or would like to know more information then please get in touch or speak to your GP.
Make sure you keep following our blogs and social media sites to stay up to date with a very special event, which is close to Global Health’s heart, happening in March 2016!
Stay Healthy. Stay Happy.