Cervical cancer screening, or the "smear test," aims to pick up and treat abnormal cells in the cervix before they become cancer. But for most gynaecological cancers there isn't a screening program, so noticing symptoms and getting them checked out is the key to making sure cancer can be diagnosed at an early stage when treatment is most effective.
In a new research paper published in BMJ Open, we tried to understand how women notice and make sense of symptoms that might indicate a gynae cancer. There are five of these cancers, affecting the cervix, womb, ovary, vagina and vulva. They have a range of symptoms, many of which are common and can be a sign of much less serious conditions – things like bloating, bleeding between periods or after sex, and changes in bowel habits.
Here are some of the key signs and symptoms of cancer.
They are most likely to be caused by something much less serious than cancer, but they could be a sign of cancer.
Spotting cancer early is important as it means treatment is more likely to be successful. So it's important you tell your doctor if you notice anything on this list, or any other unusual or persistent change to your body. Although anyone can develop cancer, it's more common as we get older – around 9 out of 10 cases are in people aged 50 or over.
There are more than 200 different types of cancer, with many different symptoms. This list, in no special order, highlights the key ones to be aware of. But there's no need to learn symptoms – if you spot something that isn't normal for you, get it checked out.