Women's Health Week - Gynaecological cancers

Women’s Health Week is a nation-wide campaign of events centred on improving women's health.  This week we will hear from female clinicians at Mater speaking about female health issues they are passionate about.

Coinciding with International Gynaecological Awareness day, we spoke with Dr Nisha Jagasia, Gynaecological Oncologist at Mater Hospital Brisbane and Mater Private Hospital Brisbane who shared the importance of women understanding the warning signs of gynaecological cancers.

Dr Jagasia said gynaecological cancers are the third most common cancer type in women.  The Gynaecological Oncology Unit at the Mater would see approximately 70 new cases of confirmed or suspected gynaecological cancer per month. 

“Among these, the most common cancers we see and treat are uterine cancer, ovarian cancer and cervical cancer,” Dr Jagasia said.

“Unfortunately, some of these cancers present at advanced stages because they can go undetected for some time due to many women being unaware of the symptoms associated with gynaecological cancer or being too embarrassed to see a doctor for help”.

“For example, when we look at ovarian cancer symptoms, they are often very vague and non-specific. Symptoms might include bloating, nausea, early fullness, frequency of urination or change in bowel habits.  These symptoms can be put down to a range of things but many women may not recognize that they can also represent a developing ovarian cancer”.

Dr Jagasia added that Ovarian Cancer Australia now have an online symptom diary which allows women to track any new or unusual abdominal or pelvic symptoms over a period of 2 to 4 weeks, and prompts them to seek medical attention if symptoms are severe, occur frequently or persistently over this period. 

“It is important that we help women become aware of the resources available to them, to ensure they seek medical attention early as there is no early detection test for ovarian cancer”.

As the most common cancer that Dr Jagasia and her colleagues treat, endometrial or uterine is one of the few gynaecological cancers that provides a warning sign.

“Women with endometrial cancer often present with abnormal vaginal bleeding. Women should be educated that any bleeding after menopause is abnormal and they should be referred to a gynaecologist for investigation”.

“Women who are diagnosed with vulval cancer are often older and may be reluctant to see their doctor about symptoms that they perceive as embarrassing or which would require a gynaecological examination.”

“It is important that we help women to get over that initial embarrassment and stigma because if detected early, vulval cancers can be very effectively treated”.

Unlike many other gynaecological cancers, Dr Jagasia explained that cervical cancer has both an effective screening test and a preventative vaccine, the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine.

“Cervical cancer is the only gynaecological cancer that we currently have a national screening program for. Young girls and women need to be educated about the importance of HPV vaccination and cervical screening as the best strategies for significantly reducing their risk of developing a pre-cancer or cancer of the cervix”.

Dr Jagasia said on the whole, gynaecological cancers do not discriminate between ethnic groups or by age, making it so important for women of all groups to become better educated on the warning signs of these cancers and more aware of the help available to them.

“Symptoms are always indicative of something. So, if there is something that a woman feels is abnormal for her, she should seek medical advice.”

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