As September is Gynaecological Cancer Awareness month we thought we would highlight some of the work that Wellbeing of Women are currently funding in this important area. Every day in the UK, 50 women are diagnosed with a gynaecological cancer, and these cruel diseases now claim the lives of 7,700 women every year. But despite these bleak statistics, research into gynaecological cancers is drastically underfunded and overall survival rates remain low – with your help we can ensure this changes.
If you would like to learn more about these projects, or indeed any of our work – from finding a cure for endometriosis to improving the success rates of IVF, do please get in touch. Our ability to improve women’s health through our research and training grants depends entirely upon the generosity of people like you.
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Womb cancer is also known as endometrial or uterine cancer. The past 20 years have seen a 40% increase in the incidence of womb cancer and a 20% increase in death rate, despite improvements in overall survival. Womb cancer is now the fourth most common cancer affecting British women, behind breast, lung and colon cancer.
It is more common in women who have been through the menopause, and most cases (93%) were diagnosed in women aged over 50.
What are the risk factors?
- Women who are overweight are three times more likely to develop womb cancer compared to those of a healthy weight. Very overweight women (BMI of more than 40) are six times more likely to develop it.
- Age – the average age of diagnosis is 60; although it’s important to note that younger women can develop womb cancer too.
- tamoxifen treatment for breast cancer survivors – Tamoxifen is a hormone treatment for breast cancer and can confer an increased risk of developing womb cancer. However it is important to note that this risk is outweighed by the benefits that tamoxifen provides in preventing breast cancer.
What are the symptoms?
The cardinal symptom of womb cancer in postmenopausal women is vaginal bleeding. For premenopausal women, irregular bleeding (between periods) is the most common presenting symptom.
What steps do I take if I think I have it?
If you experience abnormal vaginal bleeding, always consult your GP as soon as possible. Because abnormal bleeding is alarming, particularly after the menopause, women usually go to the GP promptly. If appropriately referred and investigated for abnormal bleeding, womb cancer is generally picked up early.
How is it treated?
Initial tests will involve a pelvic ultrasound to assess the lining of the womb, looking for abnormal thickness or polyps. This is usually followed by biopsy of the lining of the womb.
Current treatment for womb cancer is a hysterectomy (removal of the womb) and removal of the ovaries and fallopian tubes. This is increasingly done via laparoscopic (keyhole) surgery which results in a much shorter recovery period and lower risk of complications. If the tumour is at an advanced stage, radiotherapy might be required followed by chemotherapy if necessary.
Can I prevent it?
Dr Emma Crosbie, a Wellbeing of Women funded researcher and Gynaecological Oncologist at the University of Manchester is currently working on numerous clinical trials to test interventions for at-risk women. These include weight loss, (being overweight considerably increases risk) progesterone treatments (such as the mirena coil) and the use of Metformin, an anti-Diabetes drug which has shown promise to be a non-surgical treatment for womb cancer – from Wellbeing of Women funded research by Dr Vanitha Sivalingam.
What are the latest medical advancements in this area?
Wellbeing of Women have funded Dr Alexandra Taylor at the Royal Marsden, whose work has pioneered the idea of using CyberKnife® against gynaecological cancer tumours. This new technology has the ability via sensors on the CyberKnife® to move in accordance with a patient’s breathing, thereby delivering radiation with incredible accuracy and avoiding damage to normal surrounding tissue.
Dr Vanitha Sivalingam’s study is the first of its kind to investigate the use of anti-Diabetes drug Metformin against womb cancer. Due to complete later in 2015, the results have so far proven to show Metformin to be a safe, affordable and crucially, non-surgical answer to womb cancer control.
With thanks to Dr Emma Crosbie.