Ovarian cancer is a devastating disease because it is usually detected late, but ovarian and other women's cancers are often recognized by the women who have them even before they go to the doctor. Here are some of the symptoms you need to know.
Breast cancer is a leading cause of death of women in both the US and the UK, with ovarian, uterine, cervical, vulvar, vaginal, and cervical cancers almost as common. These cancers are treatable if they are caught early, but devastating if they are not.
Researchers in the UK, where women usually fare more poorly with gynecological cancers than in the US, believe that the reason some women do not survive cancer is that they dismiss symptoms that should send them to their doctors.
Women's Reproductive Cancers Tend To Present Vague Symptoms
Some kinds of cancer give clear signals it is time to see the doctor. When a mole changes color from flesh-toned to black and begins to bleed, most people will make an appointment to see the doctor about it. When a growing brain tumor begins to cause dizziness, forgetfulness,, and excruciating headaches, most people seek relief.
The early stages of women's cancers, however, present symptoms that can be attached to many other conditions, that come and go, and that sometimes seem "not all that bad".
What Are Some Of The Early Symptoms Of Gynecologic Cancers?
A common symptom of vaginal and vulvar cancers is itching
. As cells in the outermost membranes lining the vagina or vulva begin to become cancerous, they often also become dry and itchy. The usefulness of itch as an early symptom of cancer, however, is severely limited by the fact it can be caused by many other conditions. Vaginal dryness caused by menopause
can result in itch. Yeast infections can result in itch. Using the wrong feminine hygiene product can result in itch. Even though itchiness, redness, and light swelling might be symptoms that should be taken to the doctor, most women will not seek help for them.
Bleeding is another early sign of uterine, cervical, and some ovarian cancers. Bleeding, however, is a monthly occurrence with menstruation, and most women of reproductive age have occasional irregularities with their periods. A menstrual cycle might be 21 days or 35 days long instead of 28. Women tend not to take unexpected changes in the length of their cycles as a serious sign of illness, although bleeding after menopause usually results in a visit to the physician.
Lumps and bumps are also regarded ambivalently. Women who have uterine fibroids or fibrocystic disease tend to have lumps and bumps that grow during the first part of their periods (when their bodies are making more estrogen, which stimulates tissue growth) and shrink during the second part of their periods (when their bodies are making more progesterone, which stops the growth cycle until it starts up again with the next menstrual cycle).
Only if a lump or bump persists throughout a menstrual cycle, or appears after menopause, will women usually see their doctors. Even then, there are usually reservations.
Choosing The Right Doctor Is Essential
Many women don't feel comfortable discussing their reproductive health with male doctors. Discussing women's health with a female doctor usually makes a difference. A doctor who is empathetic and patient, who does not minimize "odd" symptoms or "minor" symptoms is a must for good results.