Discovering the symptoms of gynaecological cancers

by Symptom Advice on April 2, 2012

Luciano Nardo strides into his room at the Alexandra Hospital in Cheadle smiling apologetically.

“I’m sorry I’m late. I was called to an emergency. a woman had a sharp object stuck in her vagina.” As conversation killers go, this has to be up there with the best of them.

For consultant gynaecologist, mr Nardo, there is nothing untoward about this – it’s all in a day’s work. And yet women view the prospect of being examined by a gynaecologist, particularly a male gynaecologist, in the same vein as root canal surgery.

It doesn’t matter that he is a friendly Italian, who puts you at your ease straight away – the fact is that he’s a bloke. Perhaps it’s our British reserve?

“I saw a French woman recently who went to see her GP to ask if she could be referred to a gynaecologist. the GP asked her what was wrong, she said ‘nothing’ I just want my annual check-up.”

Mr Nardo thinks if we were more like European women who visit a gynaecologist once a year irrespective of whether they’re presenting any kind of symptoms or not – we’d think nothing of it.

Well, perhaps… as it is, if we want this kind of reassurance in most cases we have to go private. And even then we’ll dread it.

Thankfully, mr Nardo is aided by Susan, his nurse, who is at pains to help you relax as, let’s face it, you may well have to have a smear test.

Women are united in their dislike of the smear test and dread the national cervical screening programme call-up to go to have one every three years.

Some of us will ignore those reminder letters, like Jade Goody, who died on Mother’s Day three years ago. the untimely death of a woman in her 20s was a salutary warning not to ignore them. but most of us still think it won’t happen to us.

As we get older, we’re even more likely to turn a blind eye to  letters and symptoms. but you’ll need more than a smear test to detect whether you’ve cause for concern about one of the cancers that particularly affect older women such as cancer of the womb (endometrial cancer).

Having a normal smear test result doesn’t put you in the clear, as a smear test involves a scrape of cells from the surface of the cervix – which is the lower part of the womb. You’ll need further investigations and scans –  which  can be carried out during an appointment with mr Nardo.

About 7,000 women in the UK are diagnosed with cancer of the womb very year, which is most common in women aged over 45 – particularly those aged 55 to 65. Factors that might increase the risk of womb cancer are: starting your periods at an early age, having longer than average periods, not having periods, having a late menopause.

You are also more likely to develop womb cancer if you’ve never been pregnant. the most common symptom of cancer of the womb is abnormal bleeding.

Another gynaecological cancer that affects older women is ovarian cancer. More than 6,500 women get cancer of the ovary each year in the UK and the risk increases after the age of 45 but is most common in women between ages of 65 to 75.

Ovarian cancer symptoms often mirror other conditions, particularly in the early stages of the disease, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS).

However three main symptoms to look out for are: persistent pelvic and abdominal pain, persistent bloating, and difficulty eating/feeling full quickly.

Consultant gynaecologist, Richard Slade, added: “Many women who come to us with gynaecological symptoms say they wish they’d sought advice earlier.

“A lot of women worry about a serious underlying cause for their symptoms. With immediate investigation we can reassure them and offer treatment to alleviate their symptoms and improve their quality of life.”

If you have concerns, BMI the Alexandra Hospital, Cheadle, is holding an open event between 10am and 1pm on Saturday when consultants specialising in gynaecology, breast and urology will be offering free pre-booked five- minute appointments. To book, call 0800 051 2303.


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