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Gynaecological Cancer Awareness Month - It's Time to Open Up

September is Gynaecological Cancer Awareness Month, and GynaeHealth UK are deligther to share with you the guest blog by women’s cancer charity - The Eve Appeal who lead this in the UK and encourages women to open up and talk more freely about the signs and symptoms of gynaecological cancers.

Here, Chief Executive of The Eve Appeal, Athena Lamnisos talks candidly about the importance of raising awareness of these cancers, busting the myths and lifting the taboos around their signs and symptoms:

It’s clear from our perspective that gynaecological cancers are not talked about enough or a well profiled cause – given the general public’s lack of knowledge around key signs and symptoms, which were highlighted in our campaign last year. One in five women aged 16-25 couldn’t name a single symptom of any of the five gynaecological cancers and the majority of under 35s couldn’t correctly label the vagina on an anatomical diagram.

athenaAlthough it seems, a year on, and that knowledge gap still exists. According to our recent survey (The Eve Appeal carries out an annual survey on gynaecological cancer awareness each year), one in five women believed that gynaecological cancers were associated with sexual promiscuity, which is leading to inaccurate assumptions about the links between sex and cancer, and could be costing women in the UK their lives.

To clear it up – whilst there is a causal link between some forms of gynaecological cancers (mainly cervical cancer) and the sexually transmitted High Risk Human Papilloma Virus (HRHPV), the virus is so common that it can be considered a normal consequence of sexual activity (80% of people will contract some form of the HPV virus in their lifetime). So an analogy might be saying that people lay themselves open to catching a cold if they step outside in the wind and rain. So cervical cancer is not about promiscuity. Let’s put a stop now to that misconception.

So whilst we’re on the subject of tackling taboo and stigma – nearly 40% of women felt that there was a greater stigma attached to gynaecological cancers than other forms of cancer and this stops them talking about possible symptoms – we need to ensure that women feel empowered to talk about these issues with those close to them. As this stigma is preventing women from seeking potentially live-saving medical advice, with a quarter of women saying that they are put off talking to their GP about gynaecological health because they’re embarrassed to discuss their sexual history.

As a consequence, and despite enormous progress in medicine and research over the last 30 years, each year there are 20,000 new cases of gynaecological cancer diagnosed in the UK, and sadly there are 7,600 related deaths. These statistics are brutal, but at The Eve Appeal we are determined to change this, as that's far too many mothers, daughters, partners or friends to lose to these diseases.

That is why it’s so shocking that one in five women aged 46-55 even said they hadn’t sought medical advice for symptoms such as changes to periods, persistent bloating or pelvic discomfort because they believed they were normal for someone of their age. Age itself is also a significant factor in the incidence rate of other gynaecological cancers; three quarters of ovarian cancer cases in the UK are diagnosed in women over 55, and vaginal and vulval cancers occur most commonly in women over 60.

This is why it’s critical that women open up and share their experiences and concerns around gynaecological health and continue to raise awareness of the key signs and symptoms, as they are so often not spoken about due to embarrassment or because women are unsure of how to approach the subject.

So really is #TimeToOpenUp on gynae cancers - if you’re body doesn’t quite feel right (and you know your bodies better than anybody else), discuss it with your loved ones and visit your GP to seek advice – a simple conversation could quite literally be a life-saver.

To find out more about gynaecological cancers, the key signs and symptoms and how The Eve Appeal are committed to fighting women’s cancers please visit www.eveappeal.org.uk

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