[ INFORMATION FOR ALL WOMEN ]
What should all women look for?
Where can I get more information?
Any changes that are not normal for you and that persist for
two weeks or more need to be discussed with your doctor.
For more information please contact the Cancer Information
Helpline 0800 CANCER (226 237) or visit the Cancer Society’s
Changes to look out for include:
• Abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge, especially after
• General abdominal pain
• Pain during sexual intercourse
• Itchy skin around the opening to the vagina
• Difficulty passing urine.
For more information please also contact the New Zealand
Gynaecological Cancer Foundation For general enquiries
please call 0800 Ovarian (0800 682 7426), e-mail us at
[email protected], or visit our website at www.nzgcf.org.nz
The printing of these brochures was also supported by
Turn Your Toes Teal at www.ocanz.org.nz
Ovarian cancer is the most serious of the gynaecological
cancers because it takes the lives of more women than all
the other gynaecological cancers combined. Unfortunately
at this time, there are no effective screening tests available
to detect this cancer. We do know however, that women
who experience certain symptoms are more likely to have
Other symptoms such as urinary problems, changes in
bowel habits, extreme fatigue or back pain may also be
experienced. It is unlikely that these symptoms are ovarian
cancer, however if you have any of these symptoms for
longer than two weeks you should see your doctor.
OCTOBER 2009 HP 201
• Increased abdominal size/persistent bloating
• Pelvic and/or abdominal pain
• Difficulty eating and feeling full quickly
ANY CANCER, ANY QUESTION
0800 CANCER (226 237)
Cancer Information Helpline
Information produced by the Cancer Society of New Zealand
and the New Zealand Gynaecological Cancer Foundation
This leaflet has been prepared to help you
understand more about gynaecological cancer.
It provides some general information about
the main types of gynaecological cancer, abnormal
signs and symptoms to lookout for and some ways
to reduce your risk of developing these cancers.
What are gynaecological cancers?
Cancer occurs when damaged or abnormal cells start
to reproduce uncontrollably, eventually forming tumours.
These cells can then spread to other parts of the body where
they may form further tumours. Gynaecological cancers
are cancers that start in any part of a woman’s reproductive
organs. The five main gynaecological cancers are cervical,
ovarian, endometrial (sometimes referred to as uterine),
vulval, and vaginal cancers. (See diagram below)
Whilst gynaecological cancers are not common cancers, they do
take the lives of more than 350 New Zealand women each year.
Ovarian cancer causes around 190 of these deaths. As with most
cancers, the risk of developing gynaecological cancer increases
What causes gynaecological cancer?
The causes of gynaecological cancer are not yet fully understood,
particularly in relation to ovarian and endometrial cancers.
However, what is known is that women who have not had children
and/or who are overweight may have an increased risk of
developing these cancers.
Some cervical, vulval and vaginal cancers are caused
by a virus called human papilloma virus (HPV). This is a common
sexually transmitted virus and most women are infected with it at
some point in their lives. For most women, HPV will not cause any
serious health problems, however, for a few women it causes cell
changes that if left untreated can lead to cancer.
What screening tests are there
for gynaecological cancers?
Smear tests (also called Pap tests) detect early cell changes that if
left untreated may become cervical cancer. Having regular smear
tests therefore helps to prevent cervical cancer from developing by
allowing early treatment of the abnormal cells before they become
cancer. This is the only screening test available and it is only for
How common are gynaecological cancers?
It is often assumed that smear tests will also protect against the
other cancers such as ovarian and endometrial cancer. However,
this is not the case. Regular smear tests will not detect ovarian,
endometrial, vulval or vaginal cancer. Unfortunately there are
currently no screening tests for these other gynaecological
cancers. Being aware of the signs and symptoms, noticing when
something is abnormal or ‘not quite right’, and seeking medical
advice promptly is very important.
What can I do to help reduce the risk
of developing gynaecological cancer?
1.Reducing exposure to the HPV virus
Practicing safe sex (e.g. using condoms) with all sexual partners
will reduce the risk of exposure to HPV. Use of the HPV vaccine
by girls before they
become sexually active can also help to protect them from
HPV infection and thereby from developing vulval, vaginal
and cervical cancers.
As is the case with most cancers, smoking increases the risk
of developing gynaecological cancer and cervical cancer in
particular. Stopping now may start to reduce your risk and will
help to improve your general health. For more information
please visit www.quit.org.nz
3.A healthy diet and regular physical activity
Being overweight can increase the risk of developing some
4.Keeping up to date with your cervical smear tests
Having regular cervical smear tests (every three years or more
frequently if advised by your doctor), from the age
of 20, will help prevent cervical cancer from developing.