If you are in need of an appointment with a Gynaecologist, contact our visiting specialists, Dr Alexandra Mowat, Dr Andy Stamatiou, Dr Peter Fung or Dr Rozeena Musa to discuss or make an appointment.
From smear tests to hormones to hysterectomies, here's everything you need to know about your gynaecological health...
1. The oral contraceptive pill can protect you from ovarian and womb cancer.
The Pill, as it is commonly known, has several health benefits. It is a reliable form of contraception and, in addition, it makes periods regular and lighter, protecting women against anaemia.
Some women believe that the Pill increases their risk of gynaecological cancers but this isn't the case. The Pill protects women against ovarian cancer and, in fact, the longer you take the pill for, the lower your risk of ovarian cancer. Women who take the pill for 5 years have half the risk of developing ovarian cancer compared with women who have never taken the pill.
The pill also protects against cancer of the lining of the womb (Endometrial cancer). There is evidence that this protection lasts for up 15 years after you stop taking the pill.
2. Removing the fallopian tubes if you are having a hysterectomy can reduce your chances of getting ovarian cancer.
Ovarian cancer is a difficult disease to treat because it does not have obvious symptoms in the early stages and, as a consequence, three out of four women will have advanced disease at diagnosis.
Approximately 4,000 women die of ovarian cancer in the UK every year so it is definitely worth taking steps to reduce your risk. Removing the ovaries and fallopian tubes post menopause reduces the risk of developing ovarian cancer.
3. Having children and breastfeeding reduces the chance of getting ovarian cancer.
We do not know what causes ovarian cancer, but we do know that having children and breast-feeding them decreases the risk. It does not fully protect you but means your risk is lower than that of a woman who has never had children or breastfed.
4. A smear is not a cancer test – it is a test to protect women from getting cancer.
Women who live in England and Wales are invited for cervical screening (smear tests) on the NHS from the age of 25 (age 20 in Wales) and are asked to attend every three years till the age of 50. If the tests have been normal, the frequency of screening is reduced to every five years from the age of 50 till the age of 65, when women are discharged from the screening programme.
Sometimes people refer to smears as cancer tests as they assume that the test is to detect cancer of the cervix. This is incorrect. The test protects against cancer of the cervix. This is because, before cancer develops, the cells that line the cervix can undergo changes, known as pre-cancerous changes which, if undetected and untreated, can develop into cervical cancer.
It is estimated that cervical screening saves 5,000 lives a year.
5. Only three quarters of women, aged 25 - 64, who were invited for their cervical screening in England last year took it up.
The best way to reduce your risk of cervical cancer is to attend regular screening. Even though it is a simple, painless test that only takes a few minutes, a quarter of young women ignore their screening invitation.
The reasons for not attending vary. Some women are scared that cancer will be found. Some are frightened that the test will be painful. Some simply do not understand the importance of the test. Other reasons include being too busy or not being able to reach the GP’s surgery. This test could ultimately save your life so we must make time for it.
6. Smoking increases your chances of getting cervical cancer.
Most people know that smoking causes lung cancer. What is less well known is that smoking also increases the risk of cervical cancer.
Cervical cancer is caused by infection with the high risk Human Papilloma Virus (HRHPV). HRHPV is transmitted by sexual intercourse or genital contact. It is a common virus and four out of five women will be infected with it at some stage.
Smoking has a direct effect on the immune system of the cervix and women who smoke are less able to get rid of HRHPV infection, increasing their risk of abnormal smears and cervical cancer.
7. Diet and exercise can affect your chances of getting a gynaecological cancer.
It is common knowledge that obesity causes heart disease, stroke and diabetes but most people are not aware that obesity can also cause cancer.
Obesity is directly linked with endometrial cancer (cancer of the lining of the womb), the most common gynaecological cancer in the UK. During the reproductive years (after periods start and before the menopause), the ovaries produce key hormones - oestrogen and progesterone - both of which have an effect on the lining of the womb (the endometrium).
The fat cells in the body also produce oestrogen and the more fat cells you have, the more oestrogen circulates in your blood. After the menopause, the ovaries stop producing oestrogen and progesterone but the fat cells continue to produce oestrogen, putting the endometrium at risk of cancer. Currently, about one in four women is obese and the growing rate of obesity means endometrial cancer is becoming more common.
8. The menopause does not inevitably cause weight gain.
There is no good evidence that the menopause itself causes weight gain but rather the lifestyle changes associated with the menopause.
60% of adults are not active enough and this increases with age. In addition, the body burns calories less efficiently as we age.
Women therefore need to be particularly careful to eat a balanced diet and take regular exercise, particularly as they get older. If, despite taking care of your diet and exercising regularly, your weight continues to increase, consult your doctor as there may be another cause for this.
9. A third of women with vulval cancer are diagnosed late because they are too embarrassed to go to the doctor.
Vulval cancer (cancer of the skin on the outside of the genital tract) is a rare cancer. Just over three women in 100,000 will develop this cancer. The first symptom may be an itch or soreness. It may sometimes present with a small ulcer or a bleeding spot.
It is more common in older women and this age group may feel embarrassed about discussing such symptoms with their doctor. Mainly for this reason, the diagnosis is delayed by up to six months in one in three women.
Information coutesy of Dr Adeola Olaitan - medical advisor for The Eve Appeal and consultant gynaecologist at University College London Hospital.