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Gynaecological Cancer Awareness Month: I put 20 people to test with my gynae quiz!

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Posted: 24 September 2017
Gynaecological Cancer Awareness Month: I put 20 people to test with my gynae quiz!
New research by The Eve Appeal found that 50% of men couldn’t identify a vagina on a diagram. Perhaps even more damagingly the study of 1000 men found that only half would feel comfortable discussing gynaecological health with their partner. This research highlights just how little gynaecological health is understood, discussed, and how gynaecological health is still a taboo subject.

September is gynaecological cancer awareness month and it’s important we all start getting to know our bodies, talking more openly about women’s health and familiarising ourselves with the symptoms of gynae cancer. That’s ALL of us, male and female. Gynaecological cancers affect us all, everyone who gets diagnosed with a gynae cancer is someone’s mother, sister, friend or partner and it’s important that we are all able to spot the signs and talk openly about symptoms to get people to the doctor and diagnosed fast.

17% of men said they didn’t feel they needed to know about gynaecological health as it is just a women’s issue, but lets be frank… if you’re a straight man, then it’s very likely to be you that finds a lump in your partners vagina!

This got me thinking, just how much do my friends know about gynae health, and is it just the guys that lack this knowledge? I put them to the test.

In the name of science (not very tight science, but science none the less) I asked 10 female and 10 male friends 9 questions about women’s health and gynaecological cancer and the results were astounding! Most of interviewees knew very little about gynae health, and I was surprised to find out the girls knew as little as the boys, with the average score for both being 4 out of 10. Out of a possible 100 marks between them the girls had an overall score of 44, only marginally better than the boys at 35. What is most worrying is that not a single person could name the 5 gynaecological cancers, so how an earth could they ever spot the symptoms if faced with a gynae cancer themselves?

1. Question: What is a period and why does it happen?
Scores: Girls: 7- Boys: 7

The majority of the lost marks in this question were due to people mistaking a period for ovulation. 3 of the participants talked about an egg getting released each month but failed to talk about the lining of the womb falling away and a 3-7 day phase of bleeding. It’s surprising that 3 out of the 10 women didn’t get the mark, with 2 not mentioning bleeding at all, a fairly unforgettable part of a period if you’ve had one! 4 people described the full monthly menstrual cycle and didn’t isolate the period itself. If women aren’t aware of what a period is or what is normal for their body, then surely they will not be able to identify when there are abnormalities with their period, a key indicator of endometrial, ovarian, cervical, and vaginal cancers.

Answer: A period is when the lining of the womb, the endometrium, falls away and is excreted through the vagina. This is caused by a reduction in oestrogen as part of a women’s monthly menstrual cycle. It lasts between 2-7 (average of 5) days. This allows the womb to grow a fresh endometrial lining each month to be in the best shape for receiving a fertilised egg and developing an embryo.

2. Question: What does PMS stand for and what are the signs and symptoms?
Scores: Girls: 3 - Boys: 2

Awareness of PMS was very low among the men and women, I was surprised to see many of the female interviewees not able to guess the symptoms correctly (I was giving anyone a mark for 3+ correct symptoms). Male interviewee 2 even guessed: ‘Not a clue, I can’t know the signs and symptoms as I don’t know what it is, but I’m going to say weeing yourself’. All of the 20 individuals knew PMS was related to your period, with 18 saying it’s a side effect some women suffer from due to hormone fluctuations around their period. 7 interviewees (5 boys and 2 girls) were confused to whether it was pre or post, which is an easy confusion, so I’ll let them off with that one. Male number 7 thought PMS was post traumatic stress disorder, that there were possibly two meanings of PTSD, one being caused by your hormones during your period.

Answer: PMS stands for premenstrual stress. The signs and symptoms are: Acne, swollen or tender breasts, feeling tired, trouble sleeping, upset stomach, bloating, constipation, or diarrhoea, headache or backache, appetite changes or food cravings, joint or muscle pain, trouble with concentration or memory, tension, irritability, mood swings, or crying spells, anxiety or depression.

3. Question: How many gynaecological cancers are there and can you name them?
Scores: Girls: 0 - Boys: 0

NO ONE could name the gynae cancers which is hugely worrying. If you aren’t aware a cancer exists, then it is unlikely you will recognise the symptoms. Early identification and diagnosis is crucial and can make the difference between life and death for women with gynae cancers. All of the participants were aware of ovarian or cervical cancer, with the majority being aware of both. It seems that on the whole as a country, through government health initiatives like smear testing, and through the media we have done well at increasing awareness in these areas. Only 2 participants said vaginal cancer and no one at all included vulval cancer in their answer.

6 of the participants named fallopian tube cancer in their answer, which seems to be a common misconception. The majority of participants (quite rightly) thought of parts of the reproductive system they knew and used these for their answer, still only 11 people named womb cancer, 2 vaginal and no one vulval. There was also some confusion on what constituted a gynae cancer with female 2 wondering if breast cancer was included as it is a ‘female’ cancer (men can suffer from breast cancer too). Male 7 was almost there by thinking you could get cancer on your labia, but he assumed this would be skin cancer rather than it’s own designation, vulval cancer. Male 5 was also off the mark by thinking polycystic ovaries was a type of cancer but I have to say his reasoning as to why he thought that was sound: ‘is polycystic ovaries a cancer? I think that it is because it’s a cell multiplying that shouldn’t be there’.

This is the question we all need to know the answer to this gynae cancer awareness month. Make sure you know the five gynae cancers and their symptoms so you can spot them in yourself or in a friend/partner. Please take five minutes to familiarise yourself with the symptom table below.

Answer: There are five gynaecological cancers: Ovarian, Endometrial, Cervical, Vaginal and Vulval

4. Question: What is the most common gynaecological cancer?
Scores: Girls: 3 - Boys: 1

Most people haven’t heard of the most common gynae cancer, endometrial, otherwise known as womb or uterine cancer. Time and time again I hear of women finding out it exists at the point of their diagnosis. The majority of participants (13) assumed cervical cancer was the most common due to smear tests being available to all women over 25 on the NHS.

Answer: Endometrial (also known as uterine or womb)

5. Question: How many women die each year worldwide from a gynae cancer:
10,000 50,000 100,000 500,000 or 1,000,000?
Scores: Girls: 5 - Boys: 4

All of the interviewees chose between 100,000 and a millon and were aware that between the 5 gynae cancers the number of women losing their life each year would be substantial.

Answer: 500,000

6. Question: What is a PAP smear test and who are they for?
Scores: Girls: 6 - Boys: 4

All of the women I interviewed were over 25 and should have had a smear themselves, so it was shock that only 6 knew what a smear is and what it is used for. Commonly (8 men and 9 women) knew a PAP smear was a swab taken to look for cancer, but were not aware of what cancer and where exactly the smear is taken from. 2 participants (1 male and 1 female) thought a PAP smear is a fertility test to check how many eggs a woman has left.

Answer: A PAP smear is a test for cervical cancer where a swab is taken from the cervix to look for abnormal (pre-cancerous or cancerous) cells. It is for all women, and transsexual males with female reproductive organs, over the age of 25 (in the UK).

7. Question: What is endometrial cancer?
Scores: Girls: 4 - Boys: 4

Often participants were guessing the answer by thinking ‘endo’ means at the end of something and deducing that the womb is at the end of the fallopian tubes. Considering endometrial cancer is the most common gynaecological cancer, it is a huge shame to see such low awareness of it.

Answer: Cancer of the endometrium (the lining of the womb), also called womb or uterine cancer.

8. Question: What are the symptoms of cervical cancer?
Scores: Girls: 7 - Boys: 5

This was one of the most highly scoring questions, which is promising. Now lets see this sort of awareness for the other 4 gynae cancers!

Answer: Unusual bleeding (between periods or after menopause), bleeding after sex, unpleasant smelling discharge, pain and discomfort during sex.

9. Question: What is an oophorectomy?
Scores: Girls: 7 - Boys: 5

None of the participants had heard of an oophorectomy before but many could work out what it is from knowing of a hysterectomy and the sound of the word that it was removal of the ovaries. The most common mistake was that it’s the removal of the eggs themselves, and one participant (female 5) guessed that it is when you have your fallopian tubes tied to prevent pregnancy. Male 2 actually thought it was a trick question and a made up word!

Answer: a procedure whereby the ovaries are removed.

Over 21,000 women are diagnosed with a gynaecological cancer each year within the UK and sadly 21 of these women die each and every day. Although gynaecological cancers are more commonly diagnosed in women over 40 they can and do affect women of all ages. Charities like GRACE (Gynae-oncology Research and Clinical Excellence) and The Eve Appeal are doing an incredible job driving research into prevention, early diagnosis and treatment of gynaecological cancers to ensure that more women continue to survive these horrible diseases. This September make sure you are aware of the 5 gynae cancers and their symptoms and if you suffer from any abnormal bleeding or discharge, continuous and excessive bloating or abnormalities of the vulva such as lumps or skin changes, go see your GP immediately.
Written by: Lydia Brain
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