How well do you know the signs and symptoms of some of the most common female cancers? Following Gynaecological Cancer Awareness Month, our own Ella Heath (Financial Administration Manager) has been investigating the answers to this question among our own team- with some surprising results…

September is coming to a close, which also means that Gynaecological Cancer Awareness Month is also coming to an end!

As part of the Eve appeal’s campaign encouraging women to #knowyourbody and raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of the five gynae cancers, we decided to carry out an internal survey with the HRW team (across all four client service hubs) and the results have been fascinating!

Awareness of gynaecological cancers is very low partly due to stigma, taboo and embarrassment which stop people talking about them openly.

Most of the HRW team knew that bowel, breast and ovarian cancers are the most common, but also incorrectly thought skin and cervical cancers were more prevalent than they are. Just 18% of my colleagues selected womb cancer as one of the most common cancers – it is unfortunately much more common than some other types, with 9022 new cases a year in the UK. Conversely, 82% selected cervical cancer, which is a lot rarer- with only 3207 new cases every year in the UK. (Figures from Cancer Research UK)

Overall, most did not feel confident that they would know the symptoms of ovarian cancer. On a scale of 1-10, my colleagues rated how knowledgeable they felt about recognising the symptoms – with the average being just 3/10, it is clear that there is a need for further education and information. However, despite stating that they did not feel confident, two thirds of the HRW team were able to identify that persistent bloating and pelvic pain are key symptoms.

Most of the team knew how ovarian cancer is diagnosed. However, 40% thought it could be diagnosed through a smear test – which is a common misconception. A smear test is only used to diagnose cervical cancer. There is no national screening program for ovarian cancer, which is why it is so important to be symptom aware.

90% of the team were aware that ovarian cancer can affect people of any age: although most cases of ovarian cancer are diagnosed in women who have gone through the menopause, there are still over 1200 women under the age of 50 diagnosed each year in the UK.

These results will be shared with the HRW team, and we’re planning to create some infographics with all the symptom information for each of our hubs.

The symptoms:

Ovarian cancer symptoms are frequent, persistent and new. These can all be key symptoms of ovarian cancer, when experienced on most days (source: Target Ovarian Cancer):

• Feeling full or having difficulty eating on most days
• Persistent pelvic or abdominal pain
• Persistent bloating or having a swollen stomach (not bloating that comes and goes)
• Urinary symptoms (needing to wee more urgently or often than usual)

As someone who has had successful treatment for ovarian cancer at 29, I am thrilled that HRW has run an internal survey and is sharing the findings with the team! Having everyone in our client service hubs openly discussing the symptoms of gynaecological cancer this month has definitely gone some way to reduce the taboo and embarrassment that surrounds these diseases.

Early detection is key with gynae cancers, and I am thrilled to work for a company that is passionate about healthcare research for its staff, as well as its clients.

To find out more about Gynaecological Cancer Awareness Month, click here.

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