Brinkmann Gynaecology

Preventing gynaecological cancer

Gynaecological cancers are the fourth most common type of cancer in women affecting 18,000 women each year in the UK.  While there is no guaranteed way to prevent these types of cancers, there are steps you can take to reduce your risks – the best way to beat cancer is to prevent cancer.

See the right doctor
More than 60 percent of the women diagnosed with gynaecological cancers are not treated by the correct doctor.  Gynaecological oncologists are highly specialised to care for women with reproductive cancers using the newest and most effective treatments, resulting in significantly higher cure rates.  If you need help finding your nearest gynaecological oncologist, contact your GP or hospital for advice.

Have the HPV vaccine
This protects against the types of HPV (human papilloma virus) that most often cause cervical, vaginal, and vulval cancers.  All 12–13-year-old (year 8) girls in the UK are now offered a HPV vaccination as it is best given to girls before puberty and having sex.  But as the vaccine does not protect against all types of HPV, it is still important to attend cervical screening.

Schedule a smear test 
A regular smear test decreases your chance of developing cervical cancer by 90 percent.  Smears test for cervical pre-cancers and cancer and are the only screening test currently available for gynaecological cancer.  But remember, smear tests don’t screen for cancers of the ovary, uterus or fallopian tubes so it’s important to be aware of any other unusual changes to your body.  

Know the warning signs
Being attuned to the warning signs of gynaecological cancers is one way to detect these cancers in their early stages, when treatment is more successful.  Any bleeding after menopause, no matter how small, is not normal. Other symptoms may include pain or pressure in the pelvic area, constant indigestion or bloating, a thickening or lump in the pelvic area that can be seen or felt or a sore in the genital area that does not heal.  These warning signs, if they occur often or all the time, can be suggestive of cancer. 

Do something about it
If you notice any unusual or persistent changes in your body, see your doctor right away.  You have nothing to lose, but you could have everything to gain.  If it is something serious, finding it early and beginning treatment quickly offers a far better chance of beating the disease. 
Cancer treatments are more successful the earlier the disease is diagnosed.

Know your family health history
If your family has a history of cancer, it can increase your risk of developing a gynaecological cancer. Inform your doctor so you can determine which types of screening tests or self-examinations you should be doing and how often.

Change your behaviour
Research tells
us that up to one third of cancers are preventable through healthy life-style choices, including healthy eating, physical activity and maintaining a healthy weight.  Obesity is a known risk factor for gynaecological cancers such as ovarian and endometrial cancer whilst smoking increases your risk of ovarian, cervical and uterine cancer.

Chichester-based gynaecological oncologist Mr Dirk Brinkmann, says “Survival rates continue to improve as women become more aware of signs and symptoms of gynaecological cancers leading to earlier diagnoses, when the overall survival rates are better. This is particularly important since, unlike breast cancer, gynaecological organs are not easily visible.”  Cancer Research UK says earlier diagnosis, specialisation of surgery and chemotherapy and other treatments are bringing significant improvements.  These welcome developments means that cancer patients are living longer and living well.

A version of this article will appear in the Chichester Herald in January 2013