Seven common myths about gynaecological cancer
Here is a fact check of the seven most common myths people have about gynaecological cancer
Myth 1: Gynaecological cancer only affects older women
False. It is true that gynaecological cancer mostly affects women after menopause. However, gynaecological cancer can also occur in younger women.
In the case of uterine cancer, in Australia, the average age of women diagnosed is 65 years. Cancer Australia reports around 67% of cancers of the uterus are diagnosed in women aged 60 years or older. Approximately 3% of all cancers of the uterus in Australia are diagnosed in women under 40 years, 7% in women aged 40-49 years, and 23% in women aged 50-59 years.
Myth 2: I’m not at risk, because I don’t have a family history
This is not true. Most women diagnosed with gynaecological cancer have no family history (6 out of 7 for ovarian cancer).
Myth 3: Cervical cancer screening detects all types of gynaecological cancer
Definitely not true. Cervical Cancer Screening (HPV testing) only detects abnormalities on the cervix, which is the lower part of the uterus. It detects the HPV Virus and the associated cells that shed from the cervix. Do not think you are 'safe' from gynaecological cancer because you had a cervical screening test. It does not test for uterine or ovarian cancer.
Myth 4: Gynaecological cancer has no symptoms (it’s a silent killer)
This is a tricky one because many women experience symptoms, but they can be similar to other benign, non-cancerous conditions, and as a consequence are often ignored.
Symptoms can vary depending on the gynaecological cancer. Vaginal bleeding that is outside the normal menstrual cycle should always be investigated because it is the main symptom for endometrial cancer. Any vaginal bleeding (even a few drops of blood) after menopause should be investigated. Ovarian, cervical or vulvar cancer may or may not present with symptoms at all.
Myth 5: You can’t get gynaecological cancer after a hysterectomy
This is incorrect. There are different types of hysterectomy, subtotal, total or radical. Subtotal hysterectomy removes the uterus only, and leaves the cervix behind. Removing the uterus removes the risk of uterine cancer. If you have a cervix, it’s still possible to develop cervical cancer.
You can also have a hysterectomy and choose to leave or take out the ovaries. If the ovaries remain, your risk of ovarian cancer does too. While very uncommon, it’s also possible to be diagnosed with ovarian cancer after the ovaries have been removed. You can read more about why here.
No matter which type of hysterectomy, you can still develop vaginal or vulvar cancer.
Myth 6: Gynaecological cancer is sexually transmitted
Gynaecological cancer is not contagious and cannot be passed on.
This myth stems from the knowledge that HPV causes cervical cancer in some patients. HPV is mainly transmitted through sexual contact which when left untreated or if it persists, can cause cervical cancer after many years. More than 90% of cervical cancers originate from a persistent HPV infection. Approximately, half of vulvar cancers are associated with HPV also.
Ovarian and endometrial cancers are not associated with HPV or with any other transmissible disease.
Myth 7: Survival rates for gynaecological cancer are high
This depends on the gynaecological cancer type, stage and how aggressive the cancer is.The overall five year survival rates for each gynaecological cancer according to Cancer Australia are listed below. You can see in the list below endometrial cancer has the highest survival rate at the top of the list (as we speak survival is decreasing), whereas ovarian cancer is much lower. Ovarian cancer has the lowest gynaecological survival rate.
- Endometrial Cancer 85%
- Cervical cancer 74%
- Fallopian cancer (develops in fallopian tubes) 71%
- Vulvar cancer 74%
- Vaginal cancer 56%
- Ovarian cancer 49%
Survival rates are an indication only and used as a way to evaluate the effectiveness of treatments. Each person’s circumstances can be different.
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