Knowledge is power
What are the symptoms of gynaecological cancers?
The warning signs of gynecologic cancers can be vague and similar to those of other conditions. It is important to pay attention to your body and understand what is normal for you. You should see a doctor immediately if you notice anything unusual that lasts for two weeks or longer.
The cervix is the lowest part of the womb (uterus) and is often called the neck of the womb. It affects women at all ages but is most often in women over the age of 30.
The human papillomavirus (HPV) is the main cause of cervical cancer. HPV is a common virus that can be passed from one person to another during sex.
Early stage cervical cancer may not have any obvious signs and symptoms. Yet if you have experienced abnormal bleeding or discharge from the vagina, please see your doctor right away. They may be caused by conditions other than cancer but the only way to know is to consult your doctor.
Cervical cancer can be prevented through screening tests and vaccination which prevents HPV infection.
The ovaries are two small oval shaped organs which are part of the female reproductive system.
There are some known risk factors which may increase a woman’s susceptibility to ovarian cancer, including increasing age, never given birth or having trouble getting pregnant, having family history of ovarian cancer and endometriosis (a condition where tissue from the lining of the uterus grows elsewhere in the body).
Symptoms of ovarian cancer include swelling and pain in the abdomen or back, feeling full too quickly or having difficulty in eating, and changes in bowel or urinary function. These symptoms however are also common to other conditions. Please consult your doctor if you are in doubt.
The uterus or womb is a muscular pear shaped organ which at its narrower end is closed by the neck of the womb (cervix). The lining of the womb (uterus) is called the endometrium and it is from here that the cancer usually starts.
The exact cause of uterine cancer (also known as endometrial cancer) is still unknown. However, it is generally believed that women having taken hormone replacement treatment for a long time and those who have had trouble getting pregnant would have a higher chance of developing uterine cancer.
Abnormal bleeding, pain or pressure in your pelvis could be symptoms of uterine cancer. Please see a doctor right away if you have any symptoms. These signs may be caused by something else but the only way to know is to see your doctor.
Vulvar and vaginal cancer
The vulva is the outer part of the female genital organs. The vagina, also called the birth canal, is the tube-like channel between the bottom of the uterus and the outside of the body.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) and smoking are two of the known risks which may increase a woman’s susceptibility to vulvar and vaginal cancer.
It is important to pay attention to your body and know what is normal for you. If you observed any abnormal discharge or bleeding, change in bathroom habits or pain in your pelvis, please see a doctor right away. Also see a doctor if you have any of the other symptoms for two weeks or longer and they are not normal for you.
Know your body
How are gynecological cancers treated?
As with everything else, treatment for all gynecological cancers will be individually tailored and discussed with you by your medical team. They will plan your treatment with you by taking into consideration a number of factors such as the type and size of tumor, stage of cancer, your age and general health. Potential treatments may include surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, hormonal therapy and targeted therapies.
What should I ask my doctor?
You might find it helpful to write down some questions that you would like to ask your medical team and bring them to your appointment. Here are some of the questions that you may want to ask the doctor after a diagnosis:
- What is my prognosis?
- What are my treatment options?
- Who will provide my treatment?
- What treatment side effects should I expect?
- How can I preserve my quality of life during treatment?
- What support resources are available?
- Will I still be able to become pregnant?
How can I prevent gynecological cancers?
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a very common virus usually found in persons who have ever been sexually active. HPV vaccines are a prophylactic vaccine to prevent cervical cancer as well as other HPV related cancers or diseases. They work best in women who have not started sexual activities. However, HPV vaccination does not protect against infection by the HPV types that are not found in the vaccines, nor can clear the virus in those who have already been infected. It is essential for women who have received HPV vaccination continue going for regular cervical cancer screening.
Cervical smear is a very safe test that only takes a few minutes. Women aged 25-64 years who ever had sex, irrespective of marital status, are recommended to receive regular cervical cancer screening. Having a regular screening can detect and treat early abnormal changes in the cervix before cancer develops.
You are not alone
Busting the HPV myths
Myth: Having HPV means I have got cancer
Fact: There are about 200 types of HPV. About 40 types affect the genital area, simply meaning they will live there, a few can cause unpleasant but harmless conditions like genital warts. Around 13 high-risk types can cause cervical cancer and other cancers of the genitals as well as mouth and throat cancer, but this is rare.
Myth: You will know if you have HPV
Fact: HPV is symptomless and in most cases the immune system will clear the infection. Cervical screening picks up any abnormal cells.
Myth: You can only get the virus through sexual intercourse
Fact: HPV is usually sexually transmitted, but it can also be transmitted by any skin-to-skin contact in the genital and oral areas.
Myth: HPV is a sign of being promiscuous
Fact: 80% of us will contract HPV virus at some point in our lives. It is easy to get and pass on and you can get it the first time you have any sexual contact
Other support resources
Below are links of other organizations that with information that you may find it useful. Remember you are never alone as you navigate life with cancer.
Hong Kong Cancer Fund
Free information and professional support to anyone living with or affected by cancer
Hong Kong Anti-cancer Society
Providing rehabilitation care, holistic support and counseling service
Cervical Screening Program, Hong Kong Department of Health
Information about cervical screening program in Hong Kong
Employees Retraining Board – Smart Living Scheme
One-stop free referral platform for domestic services
Hospital Authority Hong Kong Cancer Registry
Local cancer statistics recorded by Hong Kong Hospital Authority
American Cancer Society
A comprehensive site with up-to-date news items and cancer information to people living with cancer and their families
American Institute for Cancer Research
A cancer charity that fosters research on diet and cancer prevention
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