‘Endometrial cancer is on the rise in the western world’ advises The Eve Appeal, a UK national charity funding research and raising awareness into five gynaecological cancers – womb, ovarian, cervical, vulval and vaginal. The number of womb cancers (endometrial cancers) diagnosed in the UK has risen by 19% over the last decade and an obesity epidemic may be partly to blame.
There is currently no screening test for endometrial cancer and therefore women and their GPs being aware of the signs and symptoms is incredibly important. Like most cancers, an early diagnosis offers a higher chance of a cure. The key symptom is abnormal vaginal bleeding. For women post-menopause, any vaginal bleeding is unusual and needs to be investigated. For younger women who haven’t been through the menopause, bleeding between periods, or periods being heavier than usual, should be cause for concern. Other symptoms include pain in the lower abdomen or back, pain during sexual intercourse, reduced appetite, tiredness and nausea.
Virtually all cases of endometrial cancer occur in women aged 40 to 74. Women who are overweight are statistically three times more likely to develop endometrial cancer than women of a healthy weight. Women who haven’t had children are at greater risk, as are women who are diabetic, for whom the risk doubles.
Thankfully, in the majority of cases abnormal vaginal bleeding will not have a sinister cause. However, women must report it to their GP and seek advice. Sadly abnormal bleeding can sometimes be overlooked, leading to a misdiagnosis and a missed opportunity to provide medical care for endometrial cancer at an early stage, when it can be very treatable.
Alison Johnson, partner in the clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches Cooper, specialises in representing women with gynaecological and oncological cases and has seen the tragic impact a missed diagnosis can have. She says: “Endometrial cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women, yet seems to have a low awareness level. The profile-raising work that charities such as The Eve Appeal undertake is vital and it cannot be stressed enough how important it is for women to see their GP if they have any concerns about gynaecological symptoms. Likewise, GPs need to consider those symptoms carefully and recognise when it is necessary for a referral to be made for further investigations. Endometrial cancers are relatively slow-growing so there is an opportunity to treat these women successfully as long as the right diagnosis is made in a timely manner.”