Many women lead busy lives, juggling work, family, and trying to fit in a bit of ‘me time’ along the way. So when something doesn’t feel quite right with their bodies, it’s not uncommon for symptoms to be dismissed in the hopes the issue will sort itself out.
The thing is, most women aren’t aware that many gynaecological symptoms can be signs of a bigger health issue that needs to be addressed. The Australian Gynaecological Cancer Foundation estimates that an Australian woman is diagnosed with a gynaecological cancer every 2 hours, with 1 in 21 Australian women estimated to face a diagnosis by their 85th birthday.
Increasing your awareness about these cancers and their symptoms can make a difference. While there are no guarantees with cancer, early detection greatly increases chances of successful treatment.
In this post I, Dr Rob Paterson, will discuss gynaecological cancer, and highlight some symptoms you shouldn’t ignore.
What is gynaecological cancer?
As with all cancers, gynaecological cancer is an uncontrolled growth and spread of abnormal cells. However gynaecological cancer occurs specifically in the female reproductive organs, including the:
- Fallopian tubes
Common symptoms of gynaecological cancers
If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, I recommend that you see your GP and if necessary ask for a referral to our patient-centred Newcastle Oncology clinic.
Having these symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean you have gynaecological cancer; however getting examined by a healthcare professional is the only way to know for sure.
Spotting or bleeding between periods
Birth control pills, hormonal fluctuations, fibroids, and stress can all be reasons why spotting or bleeding occurs between periods. Most of the time, this bleeding is not harmful, but it could also be a sign of an infection, an STD, or a gynaecological cancer such as uterine, ovarian or vaginal cancer.
Pain during sex
Some women dread having sex because they know it’s going to hurt. But they don’t seek medical advice because of embarrassment about discussing the issue. Pain during sex is not considered normal, and can be attributed to infection, vulvodynia, endometriosis, or a gynaecological cancer.
If you experience pain during sex, it’s important to address the issue with your doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment.
Many women ignore this gynaecological symptom because they think that painful periods are to be expected. It is true that menstruation is usually accompanied by a degree of discomfort and cramping. But experiencing a level of pain that hinders your ability to go about your daily life should be investigated. So if you’re experiencing extreme period pain, I strongly recommend seeing your GP.
Changes in your menstrual cycle
The specifics of menstrual cycles can vary between women. Long or short, heavy or light, intermittent or like clockwork… most women have a pretty good idea of what is normal for their body.
Changes in your regular periods are not necessarily a sign of cancer. They can also be caused by other events such as illness, stress, and certain medications (including contraceptive pills).
However, heavier or suddenly painful periods can also be a sign of a larger problem such as fibroids, an ovarian cyst, endometriosis, or a gynaecological cancer. So if you notice a change in your period, whether in length, intensity, or reliability, it’s a good idea to get it checked out.
Bloating is a common experience for women, especially prior to – or during – menstruation. But chronic bloating can be a symptom of an ovarian cyst or cancer. If your GP has ruled out common causes of bloating such as irritable bowel syndrome, acid reflux, or other digestive ailments, ask for a referral to see myself, Dr Rob Paterson, or another of our caring Oncologists at Hunter Valley Oncology.
Small changes in your vaginal discharge’s colour, consistency, and volume throughout each month are normal. But if your vaginal discharge starts appearing dark, bloody (between periods) or has an unusual odour, it could be an early warning sign for cervical, uterine, ovarian or vaginal cancer. A trip to the doctor could put your mind at ease.
Persistent pain or discomfort in your back, pelvis, or abdomen is your body trying to tell you something is not quite right. Although there are a large number of common causes for these types of pain, if yours lasts more than a few weeks, it’s best to talk to your doctor to rule out a gynaecological cancer such as ovarian or uterine cancer.
Where to get further advice
If you have concerns about gynaecological symptoms you are experiencing, consider speaking to your GP for a referral to see one of our qualified Oncologists at Hunter Valley Oncology.