Professor Clare McKenzie, RCOG Vice President, writes...
September marks Gynaecological Cancer Awareness Month; a UK-wide initiative led by women’s cancer charity, The Eve Appeal. The campaign aims to encourage more women to be aware of the signs and symptoms of the disease, and to feel comfortable speaking about them without shame or embarrassment.
Sadly, more than 21,000 women are diagnosed with one of the five forms of gynaecological cancer each year in the UK. In 2014, more than 7,750 of these women lost their battle. Despite these alarming statistics, gynaecological cancer remains a taboo subject among the public. We know that stigma, embarrassment and a lack of knowledge about the disease, are key barriers for women to talk openly about gynaecological cancer and seek medical help.
A new survey by The Eve Appeal now reveals a shocking number of women know little about their own anatomy; with nearly half of those surveyed unable to identify the vagina on an anatomical diagram, and 45% of women couldn’t point out the cervix.
Awareness of female cancers was also low; the survey found that 14% of women could not name a single gynaecological cancer, and 8% thought breast cancer was a type of gynaecological cancer. This survey highlights a growing need for better sex education. If women are better informed about what is normal or not when it comes to their gynaecological health, there is a higher chance they will seek help. This knowledge will equip young women for the future, and work to remove the stigma associated with gynaecological cancer.
In the wake of these statistics, The Eve Appeal has launched this year’s Gynaecological Cancer Awareness Month with a theme focusing on knowing our own bodies (#KnowYourBody). The charity hopes this campaign will encourage women to get to know their bodies better; leading to early diagnoses.
Each day, around 25 women in the UK are diagnosed with womb cancer; the 12th most common cancer in the UK. Meanwhile, ovarian cancer leads to more deaths than any other type of gynaecological cancer with 4,100 women losing their life to the cancer in 2014. This is one too many wives, mothers, daughters, sisters and friends.
If women notice any changes in their bleeding patterns, vaginal discharge or bowel or urinary habits, or experience pain during sex, we urge them to speak to a GP or nurse. We also encourage women who have any concerns to contact The Eve Appeal’s Ask Eve service on Freephone 0808 802 0019 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
It is vital that we raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of all types of gynaecological cancers. It’s time to change the mentality of these being a taboo subject, and get women talking about their bodies. Only then can we start reducing the number of women who died from the disease.