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Dr Anita Mitra’s Guide To Gynaecological Cancer

2 MIN READ • 6th February 2023

While March is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, there are also four other gynaecological cancers – here is my quick guide to them and their symptoms

Endometrial cancer

There are 9,300 cases in the UK per year, and one in 36 women in the UK will develop this cancer.

Signs and symptoms

  • Bleeding after menopause (this should always be checked – approximately 10 percent of postmenopausal bleeding is due to this cancer)
  • Bleeding after sex
  • Spotting/blood-stained discharge/bleeding between periods
  • Periods becoming heavier than normal

Is it genetic and is there any screening?

Up to five percent of cases are due to genetic syndromes – Lynch syndrome is the commonest genetic cause. Mutations in the BRCA1 & 2 genes can also increase risk. There isn’t any screening, but if you develop symptoms we can perform an ultrasound to assess the thickness of the endometrium and assess chance of a cancer, and then perform a biopsy for diagnosis.

Can I reduce my risk?

Use of hormonal contraception may decrease your risk – the combined oral contraceptive pill may cut a user’s lifetime risk of the disease in half. Physical activity has also been associated with a risk reduction, independent of body weight.

Cervical cancer

Number of cases per year – 3,200 cases in the UK. Lifetime risk – one in 142 women.

Signs and symptoms

  • Bleeding after the menopause
  • Bleeding after sex
  • Spotting/blood-stained discharge/bleeding between periods
  • Blood-stained/abnormal vaginal discharge

Is it genetic and is there any screening?

Women with a first-degree relative who has had cervical cancer have a 75 percent higher risk compared to the general population, but a casual gene has not been identified. Cervical screening is performed every three years from 25-50, and then every five years until age 65.

Can I reduce my risk?

Attend screenings and don’t smoke; 21 percent of cases are thought to be directly related to that. The HPV vaccine will reduce risk in years to come.

Vulval cancer

Number of cases per year – 1,300 cases in the UK. Lifetime risk – one in 232 women.

Signs and symptoms

  • Persistent itching, pain or soreness
  • Changes in the skin of the vulva, including loss of pigmentation, discolouration, thickening
  • A lump on the vulva

Is it genetic and is there any screening?

It’s not genetic and there isn’t any screening. If we suspect it, a biopsy will be taken for diagnosis.

Can I reduce my risk?

Be aware of skin changes, don’t ignore persistent itch. Lichen sclerosus is a chronic inflammatory skin disorder that affects one in 70 women and can result in vulval cancer in five percent of sufferers.

Vaginal cancer

Number of cases per year – only 250 cases per year. Lifetime risk – one in 1,421 women.

Signs and symptoms

  • Bleeding after the menopause
  • Bleeding after sex
  • Spotting/blood-stained discharge/bleeding between periods
  • A lump in the vagina

Is it genetic and is there any screening?

There is a higher risk in women whose mothers took Diethylstilbestrol (a medication used from the 1940-70’s to prevent miscarriage) during pregnancy. If we suspect vaginal cancer a biopsy will be taken for diagnosis.

Can I reduce my risk?

Promptly report any abnormal bleeding, lumps and bumps to your GP.

Follow Dr Anita Mitra, AKA Gynae Geek, on Instagram @gynaegeek. For more information about these cancers, visit the Eve Appeal website (eveappeal.org.uk).

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