On Wednesday, news broke that women who carry extra weight around the waist have an increased risk of developing womb cancer.
A study found that for every 0.1 unit increase in the ratio between a woman’s waist and hip, the risk of developing the disease increased by 21%.
It’s estimated that one in 41 women will be diagnosed with womb cancer in their lifetime. But what exactly is womb cancer? And what are the symptoms women should be looking out for?
What is it?
There are various types of gynaecological cancer, some of which include: cervical cancer, ovarian cancer, vaginal cancer, vulvar cancer and womb cancer (also known as uterine/endometrial cancer).
The latter refers to cancer which begin in the cells that make up the lining of the womb.
According to the Eve Appeal, womb cancer is the fourth most common cancer among women in the UK and roughly 9,300 new cases are diagnosed each year. The charity also predicts that “rates of womb cancer are set to double by 2030”.
It is more common among women who have been through the menopause, with most cases being diagnosed in women aged 40 to 74. However that’s not to say it’s exclusive to that age group.
People who have high levels of oestrogen have a higher risk of developing womb cancer. The NHS states there are a number of things that can cause this to happen including obesity, diabetes, and hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
Long-term use of the breast cancer drug tamoxifen can also increase the risk.
The main warning sign of womb cancer is unexplained vaginal bleeding – for example, bleeding when you’re not on your period or any bleeding at all among post-menopausal women.
According to the NHS, bleeding may start as light bleeding accompanied by a watery discharge, which may get heavier over time.
Other, less common symptoms of endometrial cancer include pain in the lower abdomen and pain during sex.
If the cancer reaches a more advanced stage, you might experience pain in the back, legs, or pelvis; loss of appetite; tiredness and nausea.
If you notice any of the above symptoms – particularly unexplained bleeding – you should book an appointment to see a doctor.
For post-menopausal women who experience symptoms, Oxford Online Pharmacy GP Dr Helen Webberley, said: “Hospitals often have one-stop, post-menopausal bleeding clinics where women can have an examination and ultrasound scan done the same day.
“Never ignore unusual blood loss, whatever your age and wherever it happens to be.”
Treatment for womb cancer depends on the stage the cancer is at, as well as the person’s general health when it’s diagnosed.
Surgery is the main course of treatment, which means the womb is removed together with the ovaries and fallopian tubes.
This is sometimes followed by radiotherapy or chemotherapy to try to kill any possible remaining cancer cells, depending on the stage and grade of the cancer.
Having a hysterectomy means patients are no longer able to have children. In cases where a woman is diagnosed with womb cancer and she wants to have a family, it may be possible to treat the cancer using hormone therapy – however this is in very specific circumstances, according to the NHS.
In advanced cases, patients will often be given more chemotherapy and, while the cancer may not be curable, the aim is to shrink it so that patients are able to “feel normal and enjoy life to the full”.
For more information, contact the Eve Appeal’s cancer information service Ask Eve which provides specialist nurse-led advice and support to women affected by gynaecological cancers or who are worried about the signs and symptoms associated with a gynaecological cancer.