Cancer is a topic we are all more than familiar with, and something we fear discovering in ourselves and in our loved ones. So it's something we're all keen to inform ourselves on.
Women’s cancer in particular receives a lot of attention in the news and all over the media: breast cancer, cervical cancer, and ovarian cancer are reported on often. Yet, there’s one type of cancer that doesn’t get spoken about as much: womb cancer.
Yet, womb cancer is actually one of the most common gynaecological cancers. It is the fourth most common cancer in women, sitting ahead of cervical and ovarian. And sadly, over 9,300 women are diagnosed with it every year in the UK.
So, it’s worrying to hear that many of us are actually unaware of the symptoms of this common cancer. Cancer charity The Eve Appeal conducted a study of 1,000 people, and found that two out of every five women (24%) couldn’t tell them the symptoms of womb cancer.
So does this sound like you? If it does, it’s probably worth taking the time to learn more. Womb cancer can often be cured, but it is vital that it is caught early.
What are the symptoms of womb cancer?
The most common symptom of womb cancer is abnormal vaginal bleeding. This could mean spotting between periods, unusually heavy periods, or watery blood between periods.
Thankfully, most women who develop womb cancer have already gone through the menopause, which means they are likely to go to their GP when they experience vaginal bleeding, allowing the cancer to be caught early.
The danger, however, occurs when older women who have not yet gone through the menopause start to display these symptoms. It is easy to assume that their abnormal bleeding symptom is merely a sign of the onset of the menopause, and therefore postpone going to the doctor.
This is why it is so crucial to be familiar with the signs of womb cancer. Although most abnormal vaginal bleeding will not turn out to be womb cancer, it is always worth making sure.
Why is it so important to catch womb cancer early?
If womb cancer is diagnosed early enough, the cancer can be successfully treated via a hysterectomy (the surgical removal of the womb). This is because the cancer will not have developed into the womb lining.
If the cancer is in a more advanced stage and a hysterectomy is insufficient, the patient will also likely have to undergo chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
Fewer than half the women with cancer that has spread beyond the womb and into the pelvis will live beyond five years. When the cancer has gone beyond the pelvis and into the lungs or other organs, fewer than one in five will live longer than five years.
Unfortunately, undergoing a hysterectomy (which often includes the removal of the fallopian tubes and ovaries) means you can no longer menstruate or bear children.
Because of this, some younger women choose to be treated only with chemo or radiotherapy, although this is less effective at tackling the cancer.
Who is most at risk of getting womb cancer?
The majority of people diagnosed with womb cancer have gone through the menopause, and are overweight. This is because, although womb cancer can develop with no clear cause, the risk is worsened by an excess of oestrogen, which is stored in fat cells.
There is also a small percentage of people who are more at risk because of a hereditary, genetic condition called Lynch Syndrome.
Womb cancer can develop in anyone with a womb, however. 10% of cases involve younger women struck by rarer forms of the cancer. Young women sadly have a lower chance of diagnosing their womb cancer in time because they are not concerned enough about abnormality in their periods.
This is why it is so crucial to be informed – even if you don’t fit the stereotype of a womb cancer patient, it’s important to know you could still be at risk.
Why do we hear so little about womb cancer?
Since womb cancer is most commonly found in people who have gone through the menopause, thankfully, it is usually diagnosed early.
And, as it is rare for womb cancer to manifest in younger women, the NHS is wary of creating unnecessary panic. Only 1 in 10 abnormal vaginal bleedings is caused by the cancer, so people are often not aware that it can display itself in this way.
However it’s key not to worry unduly – however, it’s of course logical to stay informed about the possibility.