Women could be ignoring some potential key symptoms of gynaecological cancer, due to a lack of awareness about what to look out for, a leading health expert has warned.
Research has revealed that more than 22,000 women in the UK are diagnosed with gynaecological cancer every year – that's around 60 diagnoses every day and more than 400 women a week.
But despite affecting so many, few women are aware of the five different types of gynaecological cancer – womb, ovarian, cervical, vaginal and vulval – or their potential symptoms.
A survey by The Eve Appeal, the UK's leading gynaecological cancer research charity, found that one in three people can’t name a single gynaecological cancer and only 2% can name all five.
But having an awareness about gynaecological cancers and their potential symptoms could mean the difference between an early diagnosis and leaving it too late.
With September marking Gynaecological Cancer Awareness Month, Yahoo UK spoke to Valentina Milanova, founder of gynae health company, Daye, to throw a light on the five common symptoms of gynae cancer that we should all look out for.
From having an urgent need to pee to unexpected vaginal bleeding, Milanova believes if more women could spot these signs, they might get diagnosed and receive treatment sooner.
Bloating is not uncommon amongst women, with most experiencing it from time to time, especially during their period. It could also be associated with IBS, which women are more prone to than men.
While bloating should go away after a day or two, if you find yourself experiencing prolonged bloating, it’s important that you seek medical attention.
"Bloating is one of the most common symptoms of gynaecological cancers," explains Milanova. "Keep in mind that bloating could also be a symptom of endometriosis or adenomyosis, so do keep a diary of the frequency and severity of your bloating so you can discuss it accurately with a medical professional."
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Spotting or unexpected vaginal bleeding
There are several reasons a woman or AFAB (Assigned Female At Birth) individual might bleed irregularly that could be benign, but Milanova says any unusual vaginal bleeding or spotting between periods, after sex or post-menopause should be investigated by a doctor.
"Spotting is not unusual amongst pre-menopausal women, but postmenopausal women should not experience any bleeding, so if they do, they should speak with their GP immediately in order to obtain adequate care," she says.
"Women and AFAB individuals should know that it’s not just fresh red blood that is cause for concern, a thick, browny sludge or a pinky-coloured mucus should also be investigated if it persists."
Pelvic, abdominal or back pain
Many people suffer from back pain, especially those who spend much of their day sitting at a desk. However, back pain can also be linked to gynaecological cancers, as well as pain in your pelvic area and lower abdomen.
"If you experience ongoing pain in any of these areas, you should consult with a doctor," advises Milanova.
"Persistent abdominal pain or discomfort could indicate ovarian cancer, and constant pelvic pain or pressure can be a sign of cancer of the womb."
A frequent or urgent need to wee
The sudden urge to pee or urinating more often than normal could be a sign of gynaecological cancer, a UTI, or a bladder infection – all of which require medical attention.
"If you find yourself needing to go to the toilet more frequently than usual, this could be the result of your bladder being pressed by a potential gynaecological tumour and could be an early warning sign of ovarian cancer," Milanova advises.
Whilst it is important to note that the many of those who experience a sudden need to pee or needing to pee more frequently won’t have cancer, awareness of the potential symptom can be critical for improving early diagnosis.
Unusual vaginal discharge
Vaginal discharge is very normal and isn’t always a cause for concern. The vagina is self-cleaning, and discharge is the vagina’s way of keeping itself free from infections.
"The colour, texture and volume of vaginal discharge can vary depending on your age and where you are in your monthly cycle," explains Milanova.
"Healthy vaginal discharge ranges from clear to milky white. Cloudy white discharge could be a sign of gonorrhoea, and thick, cottage cheese-like discharge is typically a telltale sign of a yeast infection.
"Meanwhile, red or brown discharge can be a sign of cervical cancer or cancer of the womb," she adds.
Milanova says there are numerous different colour and consistency variations, but if you start to notice discharge that you've never experienced before, you should speak to your GP.
"Be prepared to discuss the colour, consistency and smell of the discharge, as well as whether it appears related to your menstrual cycle or having sex," she adds. "It can help to keep a diary of your discharge. You could also take photos of your discharge to show your doctor."
As always, seeking medical attention early is key.