There are four main cancers of the female reproductive organs. These are cancer of the uterus, cervical cancer, cancer of the vulva and ovarian cancer.
This starts in the lining of the womb (known as the endometrium). Symptoms may include bleeding between periods or spotting if you have already gone through the menopause. There may also be a pink or brown discharge. It mainly occurs in women later in life, after the menopause. It can occasionally affect younger women. Unfortunately, there are no early detection tests for this type of cancer, however, as the cancer grows very slowly, the outlook is very good. It is essential that any symptoms are discussed with your doctor as early as possible.
Cervical cancer is the twelfth most common cancer in women in the UK. Most cases develop in women in their 30s or 40s but it can occur in older and younger women. It is rare in women under the age of 25.
The number of cases of cervical cancer has fallen over recent years due to the cervical screening programme which can detect pre-cancerous changes in the cervix. These can be treated before cancer develops.
In recent years, it has been discovered that the cause of cancerous changes in the cervix in the vast majority of cases is prior infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV).
90% of HPV infections clear from the body by themselves within 2 years. This means that most women who are infected with HPV do not go on to develop cervical cancer.
The HPV vaccine has recently been introduced for girls from the age of 12 in the UK. Studies have shown that the HPV vaccine is very effective in stopping cervical cancer from developing. However, even if you have had the HPV vaccine, you must attend for cervical screening as the vaccine does not give 100% protection against cervical cancer.
This occurs on the outer part of a woman’s vagina, the ‘lips’. Most women with cancer of the vulva are over age 60. However, it is becoming more common in younger women. If there is bleeding or discharge not related to periods, severe burning/itching or pain in the vulva, or if the skin of the vulva changes and feels rough you should seek medical advice.
Cancer of the vulva is uncommon.
Cancer can occur in the ovary at any age, although the most common type of ovarian cancer (epithelial) tends to occur in women who have had their menopause which is usually over age 50.
Ovarian cancer is the second most common gynaecological cancer in the UK and affects around 7000 women a year in the UK.
In most cases, the reason why ovarian cancer develops is unknown. There are some factors which increase the risk of developing ovarian cancer and they include being overweight and a family history. Most cases of ovarian cancer are not due to genetic factors, but the most common genes involved are the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which are also associated with breast cancer.
If you have 2 or more close relatives who have had ovarian or breast cancer at a young age (or certain other cancers), you may benefit from genetic testing.
Ovarian Cancer in its early stages can be very difficult to detect and there is no reliable screening test for it. The most common symptoms include:
Although these symptoms can also be linked to other conditions they can indicate ovarian cancer exists. Should you experience symptoms that are out of the ordinary for you and if they persist almost daily for 2 weeks or more this is something that you should discuss with a doctor.
Other symptoms of ovarian cancer, which can also indicate other conditions, include:
The good news about ovarian cancer is that if diagnosed at an early stage, the outcome is good. However, because some of the symptoms of ovarian cancer are similar to those seen in more common conditions, it can be difficult to diagnose. Most women are not diagnosed until the disease has spread, which is why it is important that women know about the symptoms, so that they can seek advice as early as possible.
Occasionally other symptoms such as urinary symptoms, changes in bowel habit, extreme fatigue or back pain may also be experienced on their own or at the same time as those listed above. Again, it is most likely that these symptoms are not ovarian cancer, but may be present in some women with the disease.
If you experience any of the symptoms mentioned above, it is important that you contact us for further information and advice. It is unlikely that your symptoms are caused by a serious problem, but it is important to be checked out.