Cancer is a topic we are all heartbreakingly familiar with - so it's something we're all keen to keep ourselves informed 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. In 2018 gynaecological 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. It can often be cured, but it is vital that it is caught early.
Womb cancer symptoms: What are they?
The most common symptom of womb cancer is abnormal vaginal bleeding. This could mean
- bleeding between periods
- bleeding after sex
- unusually heavy periods
- bleeding post-menopause
- or watery blood between periods (blood-stained discharge)
One positive is that most women who develop the cancer have already gone through the menopause, which means they are more 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.
However, it’s important to note that it can affect any woman with a womb at any age – with 1 in 4 women diagnosed pre-menopausal, according to the Eve Appeal.
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.
Further signs of womb cancer include:
- pain in back, legs or pelvis
- loss of appetite
- nausea or fatigue
How do you treat womb cancer?
Of course, it is important to catch all cancers early, in order to provide every chance for successful treatment.
Hysterectomy is used as a treatment if the cancer hasn’t spread outside of the womb. The Eve Appeal explain, “There are a few types of hysterectomy, but generally it is removal of the womb.
“Rarely it includes removal of the ovaries and fallopian tubes too. These are only taken out if it is felt necessary e.g if the cancer has spread.
Unfortunately, undergoing a hysterectomy means you can no longer menstruate or bear children. Young women can still be treated with a hysterectomy though.
Chemotherapy and radiotherapy are also other treatment options, although they aren’t commonly used to treat womb cancer – chemo is only used for more uncommon types of womb cancer, and radiotherapy is given post-surgery if histology demonstrates a need.
The Eve Appeal explains, “Treatment options are always decided as what is the best option for that individual and their case.”
Who is most at risk of getting womb cancer?
The Eve Appeal state that most diagnoses have no obvious cause, and anyone at any age can get it. However, there does seem to be an increased risk if you 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 actually stored in fat cells.
Being of post-menopausal age also appears to increase the risk too.
There is also a very small percentage of people who are more at risk because of a hereditary, genetic condition called Lynch Syndrome.
This type of cancer can develop in anyone with a womb, however. 10% of cases involve younger women struck by rarer forms of the cancer.
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.
However, while it’s important not to worry unduly, it’s of course logical to stay informed about the possibility. If you do suspect any symptoms of womb cancer, or ay gynaecological cancer, visit your GP ASAP.