Surprisingly, given that according to CRUK 9,324 women were diagnosed with womb cancer in 2014 there is very little awareness of it, and there isn’t even a national awareness campaign for it.
The majority of cases occur in women over the age of 50, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t affect younger women because it does. Sadly many GP’s seem unaware that it is a cancer that younger women can get and this can have devastating effects on any young woman who presents with all the usual symptoms and is told she is “too young” to get womb cancer. By the time she does eventually get diagnosed the cancer has often progressed to a later stage and require more aggressive treatment.
So, what are the symptoms to be aware of? Well, the most common one is unusual or unexplained vaginal bleeding. So if your periods are regular and then suddenly become very heavy or start lasting longer that could be a sign that something might be wrong. Also if you start bleeding in between your normal cycle then it needs looking into. It doesn’t automatically mean that you have womb cancer but it should be enough to make you go see your GP. They may well tell you that it’s nothing to worry about but if it persists for several months then you may need to stand your ground and push for a biopsy. At present there is no screening for womb cancer like there is for cervical cancer and the point needs to be made here that womb cancer is not a type of cervical cancer as many women seem to think. A smear test will not detect womb cancer – a smear test picks up abnormal cells from the cervix – womb cancer most often originates in the lining of the womb so unless at a well advanced stage a smear test will not detect womb cancer cells.
There are several known risk factors that may increase your chances of being diagnosed with womb cancer. The most common risk factor is obesity. Being overweight can mean that you are storing oestrogen in your body fat and it is excess oestrogen that is the driving force behind womb cancer. Women who have PCOS (Poly cystic ovary syndrome) are at an increased risk of womb cancer as are women who started their periods at an early age and those who have never had children. But bear in mind that some women may not have any of these risk factors and still get diagnosed and some may have all the risk factors and never get diagnosed.
As previously stated, most cases of womb cancer occur in older women, usually those who are post menopausal (meaning those who have finished their periods) but it does also affect younger women. I was diagnosed at the age of 46 and was told I was on the young side to get it. I know of several women in their 20’s & 30’s who have been diagnosed and at least 2 who were diagnosed before the age of 20 so it is vital that all women, whatever their age, understand and are aware of womb cancer. You know about checking your boobs for lumps and bumps and, hopefully know about the importance of having a smear test and knowing about womb cancer is just as important.
As most of you know by now about a year after my diagnosis I started Womb Cancer Support UK. We are a national not for profit awareness and support organisation. There was no dedicated womb cancer support or awareness organisations at the time and I figured there must be other women out there who felt the same way I did and who wanted to be able to talk to other women who understood what we were going through.
I was right, there was. The Facebook page I started back in April 2011 now has almost 3,000 likers and we have almost 250 women in the private support group we set up. The website gets around 1,000 hits a week and we are slowly spreading awareness about womb cancer. We started out as an online space for women who had been diagnosed to come together and support each other but it soon became apparent that there was a total lack of awareness of this cancer so our dual priority now is to offer support and raise awareness.
So hopefully now you know a bit about womb cancer. Please don’t ever think it won’t happen to you – it might not but being aware of it might make all the difference. The earlier it is detected the better the outcome.
Always, get any unexplained or unusual bleeding checked out, please don’t ignore it.