How much do you know about vaginas? Yes that’s right, I just said the word VAGINA! Ask your boyfriend, husband, brother or father if they know what a vulva is! Your partner may have been down the “business end” during the birth of your children and still not know what a cervix is!
A shocking 25% of men aged 18 – 24 claim to know nothing about gynae health, or that gynae health is not a male issue.
Well, listen up boys! If your female partners, relatives and friends are diagnosed with a form of gynaecological cancer, you will want to support your loved ones and be informed. Every woman who is diagnosed with a gynaecological cancer has a man in her life who cares about her.
As sexual partners, you are relied upon to spot any symptoms your partner may be unaware of. It is then also your life-saving responsibility to inform your sexual partner (or for some of you reading this – partners!) of any findings – it could save their life.
Far too many men and women don’t know the signs and symptoms of gynae cancers or are too embarrassed to do anything about them and we need to be more open with each other. Regardless of how many years, months, days or hours (!) you have been intimate with a partner, just think, you could save a loved one’s life by finding the confidence to speak up, and this post will help you to do so…
Let’s talk facts. In the UK alone, over 21,000 women are diagnosed with a form of gynaecological cancer each year. This equates to 58 women being diagnosed every day. Sadly, 7,700 of these women will succumb to one of these cancers, which is of course is 7,700 too many. 😦
I have a long standing relationship with The Eve Appeal, the only UK charity raising awareness and funding research in all five gynaecological cancers – womb, ovarian, cervical, vulval and vaginal. It gives me such pleasure to continue working for them and help drive awareness of their latest campaigns – #IamAdam (for men to become more aware) and #knowyourbody (including a quiz for everyone to take part in).
Here I speak to Athena Lamnisos, Chief Executive Officer of The Eve Appeal who answers many important questions which will be useful for all of us. She talks signs and symptoms, how to approach a sexual partner if we’re concerned, why it’s important for men to be informed, how we can help spread awareness and get involved as well as an update of future screening tests for women (more than the cervical screening already on offer).
Thank you for reading. And please, to all men and women out there reading this post – share, share share!
Why is it important our husbands and sexual partners are aware of all things gynae health and cancers, and to be aware of what symptoms are?
As said in your introduction, over 21,000 women are diagnosed every year and sadly over 7,700 women succumb to this brutal set of cancers. Awareness that these cancers even exist is worryingly low among women, and even more so among men as our recent survey found.
Almost 1 in 5 men we’d spoken to did not feel comfortable discussing gynaecological health issues with their partners, yet a quarter of 18 – 24 year old men claimed they knew nothing about gynae health, and don’t feel the need to find out simply because they see it as ‘just a female issue’.
These are massive barriers to open, honest and frank conversations which at The Eve Appeal we’d encourage all couples to have – because without both being aware of what to look out for in terms of signs and symptoms, how can we expect them to be able to present potentially serious gynae health issues to a healthcare professional?
We’re so often told by women and their partners that the first time that they have heard of a gynaecological cancer is when either they or their partner is sat in a white room with a consultant, being told the awful news that she has just been diagnosed with one.
This underscores the importance of women knowing their bodies so that they are fully aware of the signs and symptoms associated with gynae cancers, and that by involving their partners allows for the possibility that any gynae health issue can be detected much earlier.
Should a sexual partner notice a symptom, how best do you feel they should approach the subject?
The Eve Appeal believe that women’s cancer should be everyone’s business, but fully understand that approaching a subject around gynae health issues may be particularly difficult. However, we feel that it is essential that that sexual partners voice and share their opinions around anatomy changes with one another.
We would suggest trying to get the timing right, although we appreciate that this can be very difficult – so for example we would most probably avoid bringing up the subject immediately after sexual intercourse. One useful way of bringing up the topic could be when you and your partner are in the bathroom together, getting dressed or the daily hygiene routine together i.e. getting ready in the evening for bed. It is likely that you’ll seeing each other in an intimate environment, and seemingly the most appropriate time to broach the subject; although we would advise choosing your phrasing carefully, so not to cause any offence.
It could be voiced for example in the following way; “Sheila, I noticed the other day that your vagina looked / felt slightly different, there was a slight lump or bump on your vulva; can you feel it too? Do you think this should be something we should get checked out together with the GP?”
I met my husband 13 years ago, so I like to believe he would be honest with me, and likewise with him. But it’s not going to be as easy for those in relationships lasting a short amount of time. How can we encourage men and women to approach their sexual partners, should they fear they’ve discovered a potential symptom?
Whilst we can appreciate that potentially discovering a symptom with a partner you’ve not been with for very long can be quite alarming and scary; it is essential that you broach the subject as soon as possible – although we would recommend avoid shortly after sexual intercourse as it may sound like a critique of a new partners anatomy rather than a concern – so that any issues can be picked up by their GP much earlier.
In some way it may be easier to bring up the topic of the anatomy and any changes you have spotted when you’re in the midst of new relationship, as you begin to explore their and your own anatomy. It could be easier for you to both discuss this more openly, perhaps letting them know that you’ve spotted a lump on their vulva or that you’ve noticed that she’s been bleeding after sexual intercourse.
However we appreciate that this can be an excruciating conversation to have with your partner, but it’s important to remember that everyone is different, so it could be nothing, but it’s important for both men and women to discuss gynae health issues more openly and honestly to ensure that their partner can get checked out by their GP in case that it is anything more serious.
What are the obvious symptoms a sexual partner can look out for?
The most obvious symptom to look out for, and is most common across all five gynaecological cancers is abnormal or unusual bleeding. This can include vaginal bleeding after the menopause or after sexual intercourse, as well as vaginal discharge – which can change from pink and watery to brown, or even prune coloured occasionally.
Other symptoms can include:
- thickened, raised, red, white or dark patches on the skin of the vulva
- an open sore or growth visible on the skin of the vulva
- a lump or swelling in the vulva
I like to think me and my friends are up to date with our cervical screening tests. Can we expect tests to become available in our lifetime for all gynae cancers?
At the moment there are no other screening tests available for gynaecological cancers apart from the cervical screen programme, yet The Eve Appeal are funding a pioneering risk-prediction research programme which hopes to develop one test for four female-specific cancers; womb, cervical, ovarian and breast cancer by 2020.
It aims to make individualised risk predictions for cancer available to women for the first time, by looking for molecular markers in cervical cells – taken from a regular smear test – that can predict the risk of them developing any one of four aforementioned cancers. These cancers alone represent 47% of all cancers in women, and amongst them are cancers with a 5-year survival rate of just 40%.
This research project is a massive step forward for women and families who otherwise suffer the devastating consequences of poor cancer prediction. This is an exciting time for gynaecological research given the potential results the study could yield – it would improve the lives of thousands who could be at risk of developing a form of women’s cancer by detecting the risk earlier in the process.
How can bloggers like me and our followers help to create awareness of the gynae cancers and what can we do to make it less embarrassing to talk about?
The Eve Appeal has led the national campaign to smash all the taboos that surround gynae health and stop women from recognising key signs and symptoms since 2014; Gynae Cancer Awareness Month. This has ultimately centered on the importance of educating women about the key signs and symptoms associated with gynae cancers.
This remains a key factor in raising awareness alongside encouraging women to be straight-talking about all things gynae. Straight-talking is just so vital. Using the proper anatomical terms around gynaecological health, talking openly about common symptoms like changes to periods and bleeding and not using stigmatising or silly terms to describe parts of the female body are really important steps towards better awareness and ultimately early diagnosis.
Only by breaking down these barriers to open, honest and frank conversations with our loved ones, friends and most importantly healthcare professionals can we make the breakthrough that is required to get everyone talking about gynae health issues without the fear of being judged or without the fear of feeling embarrassed.
Bloggers and their followers can get involved in numerous ways; whether that’s following The Eve Appeal on social media (Twitter, Facebook and Instagram) and sharing the wide-variety of information and awareness infographics that we promote widely. In addition, we’d welcome bloggers to approach the charity for guest blogs around key gynae health topics from our Gynae Cancer Nurse Specialist; whilst we can offer case studies to provide audiences with first-hand stories of how a gynaecological cancer diagnosis can have an impact on not just the individual but their family and friends too.
What are the key symptoms to look out for and who should we contact if we have any doubt?
There are five gynaecological cancers – womb, ovarian, cervical, vaginal and vulval – and may present themselves clinically in many ways, as symptoms of cancer in women can manifest differently at different stages of an illness. Consequently, these conditions are often not identified as early as they should be.
The key symptoms that women and men should be aware of include:
- Vaginal bleeding after the menopause
- Bleeding that is unusually heavy or happens between periods
- Vaginal discharge – from pink and watery to brown, or even prune coloured occasionally
- Increased abdominal size and persistent bloating (not bloating that comes and goes)
- Persistent pelvic and abdominal pain
- Difficulty eating and feeling full quickly, or feeling nauseous
- Thickened, raised, red, white or dark patches on the skin of the vulva
- An open sore or growth visible on the skin of the vulva
- A lump or swelling in the vulva
However, if you’d like to discuss any gynae health issues you can contact our dedicated nurse-led information service Ask Eve on 0808 802 0019 – which is free to call from landlines and mobile phones – or get in touch via email firstname.lastname@example.org.
What’s next for The Eve Appeal’s work? Are there any initiatives we can get involved with?
We will continue to raise much needed awareness across our primary campaigns; Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month (March) and Gynae Cancer Awareness Month (September) whereby we raise awareness of the signs and symptoms and key issues around these within the media; so we’d welcome any support you’re able to provide around these very important campaigns.
In addition, we hope to hold various panel events in the future – similar to our Talking Taboos event – where key spokespeople, celebrities etc discuss the key issues and raise awareness.
We also have a range of fundraising iniatives including Make Time for Tea, where we encourage individuals to hold a tea party and raise awareness of ovarian cancer among their friends, family and work colleagues. Whilst we also have an initiative called Eve 4 Eve which encourages people to have an evening fundraising for The Eve Appeal – such as a quiz night, a Bubbles and Beauty pampering evening, or giving up something for a month and being sponsored to do so. We have lots more details online at eve appeal.org.uk and we have fundraising packs available.
Thank you so much to Athena for taking the time to speak to me. I hope this post has been of interest and informative. It’s a subject we all need to be much more aware of and knowledgable on. Here are the details of current campaigns to get involved in…
Let’s get our men all aware of the five gynae cancers. Tell them to inform you if they have any concerns or notice unusual signs regarding your “bits”. Click here to view case studies of men who have been affected by a gynaecological cancer.
#KnowYourBody – test your knowledge!
How well do you know the female anatomy and all things VAGINA?! Take part in The Eve Appeal’s quiz on the female anatomy and see if you can correctly label all the different parts of the female anatomy. Share your results across social media, tagging @eveappeal on Twitter and Facebook. Click here to take part.
To find out more, or help fund vital research into gynaecological cancers by donating to The Eve Appeal, visit eveappeal.org.uk or search #IamAdam on Twitter and Instagram.
Thank you for reading, and, more importantly – for sharing (please!).
This is an unpaid featured blog post. I work closely with many charities and I feel incredibly passionate for the work The Eve Appeal do. It’s a pleasure to support them across my channels.