Signs and symptoms

There are different types of gynaecological cancer but the main symptoms can be very general, so if you notice any of these you need to see your GP.

It is important to recognise what is normal for you and if you notice any abnormal changes then it is recommended to seek advice from your GP as soon as possible, which will in turn be able to refer you for further investigations.

Ovarian Cancer

Symptoms of ovarian cancer can include:

  • abdominal pain
  • bloating
  • indigestion
  • reduced appetite
  • altered bowel habits
  • weight loss

Occasionally other symptoms such as urinary symptoms, extreme fatigue or back pain may also be experienced on their own or at the same time as those listed above. In some rare cases abnormal vaginal bleeding can also be experienced.

Vulval cancer

The most common symptoms of vulval cancer are:

  • itching, burning or soreness of the vulva that does not go away
  • a lump, swelling or wart-like growth on the vulva
  • thickened, raised, red, white or dark patches on the skin of the vulva
  • bleeding, or a blood-stained vaginal discharge, not related to menstruation (periods)
  • burning pain when passing urine
  • tenderness or pain in the area of the vulva
  • a sore or ulcerated area on the vulva
  • a mole on the vulva that changes shape or colour

Cancer of the vulva can take many years to develop. It usually starts with precancerous cells that change slowly over several years into cancerous cells.

Cervical cancer

The most common symptoms of cervical cancer are:

  • bleeding from the vagina at times other than during your period
  • bleeding that occurs between periods, after or during sex or even if you are past the menopause
  • an offensive vaginal discharge and discomfort or pains during sex/intercourse are also key symptoms to look out for

Often abnormal cells are identified through a cervical smear, if there are any signs of changes, you will be asked to attend for a colposcopy (an internal examination of the cervix) appointment.

It is important to regularly attend for cervical smear examinations as the earlier abnormal cells are treated the less likely they are to develop into cancer cells.

Womb (Endometrial) cancer

The most common symptom of womb cancer is abnormal bleeding from the vagina. This is particularly common in women who have been through the menopause and stopped having periods.

Irregular bleeding can include:

  • vaginal bleeding after the menopause
  • bleeding that is unusually heavy or happens between periods
  • vaginal discharge – from pink and watery to dark and foul-smelling

It is also the case that some women can experience pain or discomfort in the lower abdomen and pain during intercourse; however these symptoms are less common. When visiting your GP, or one of our specialists, they may also feel that your womb is enlarged and feels swollen.

Vaginal cancer

The most common symptoms of vaginal cancer are:

  • a blood-stained vaginal discharge
  • bleeding after sexual intercourse and pain
  • problems with passing urine (such as blood in the urine, the need to pass urine frequently and the need to pass urine at night)
  • women may also have some pain in the back passage (rectum).

Vaginal cancer is very rare but it is important to see your GP if you experience any of these symptoms.

Early prevention of gynaecological cancer

Vaccination programme

Two vaccines are now available in the UK to prevent HPV (human papilloma virus) infection – Gardasil® and Cervarix®.

Both of the vaccines have been shown to protect against HPV 16 and 18, which are high-risk types. It is hoped that the vaccines will prevent at least 7 out of 10 cases (70%) of the most common type of cervical cancer (squamous cell cervical cancer).

The vaccination programme is a school-based programme and a school health team from the Trust will give the vaccinations.

For more information on these vaccines, please visit the Public Health Agency website.

Cervical cancer screening

The Cervical Cancer Screening Programme offers screening to all women between the ages of 25 to 64.

Women in this age group will be sent an invitation prior to their 25th birthday and every three years thereafter until 49 by letter from their GP practice asking them to make an appointment for a smear test. Women from the age of 50-64, will be invited once every five years.

In order to be invited, women must ensure their GP has their correct name and current address on their computer system.

For more detailed information on the Cervical Cancer Screening Programme, please visit the Public Health Agency website.