Cancer Types

Symptoms of Gynaecological Cancer

There are five main types of gynaecological cancer, all with differing symptoms.  You can find these symptoms listed below.

Remember: having these symptoms does not mean that you have or will get cancer, but it is important to consult your doctor.  You may like to print this page and take it with you. 

If you have already visited your GP and the symptoms continue or worsen, it is important to return and explain this to your doctor - you know your body better than anyone.

NOTE: Bleeding following the menopause is NOT normal and needs to be investigated.

Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer death in New Zealand women. Ovarian cancer begins in a woman's ovaries. They are part of a woman's reproductive system. There are two ovaries, one on each side of the body.

Types of ovarian cancer

Epithelial carcinoma. Epithelial cancer makes up 9 out of 10 of ovarian cancers. This type of cancer begins in cells on the outer surface of the ovary or the ‘epithelium’.

  • Germ cell tumor. This type of ovarian cancer develops in the egg-producing cells of the ovaries, and is very uncommon.
  • Sex-cord stromal cell tumor. This is a rare form of ovarian cancer. It develops in the ‘connective tissue’ cells that produce female hormones hold the ovaries together. 

If you have these symptoms, and if these symptoms have persisted (i.e. on most days, for two weeks or more)  you must see your doctor. 

  • Persistent pelvic and abdominal pain
  • Increased abdominal size / persistent bloating - not bloating that comes and goes
  • Difficulty eating and feeling full quickly
  • Sometimes you may experience these symptoms on their own or at the same time:
  • Change in bowel habits
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Urinary symptoms
  • Back pain

Beat Ovarian Cancer

B is for Bloating (it is persistent and doesn't come and go)

E is for Eating (difficulty eating & feeling full more quickly)

A is for Abdominal (and pelvic pain you feel most days)

T is for Talking (tell your GP)

It is also important to be aware of and discuss with your Doctor your family history.  This can help determine if you have a genetic predisposition to some gynaecological cancers.  For example Ovarian Cancer can sometimes run in families.  So if there are two or more cases of Ovarian or Breast Cancer in your close family it is important you speak to your Doctor for more advice.

Uterine Cancer (including Endometrial Cancer)

If you have any one of these symptoms please see your doctor:

Abnormal bleeding

  • bleeding after the menopause
  • bleeding between periods
  • heavier periods than normal

Abnormal discharge

  • more than normal or strong smelling 

Cervical Cancer

If you have any one of these symptoms please see your doctor:

As with Uterine Cancer (above), plus:

  • Painful sex
  • Bleeding after sex 
  • Vaginal and Vulval Cancer

If you have any one of these symptoms please see your doctor:

  • Vulval itching, soreness
  • Obvious change in colour of the vulval skin
  • A noticeable lump

Once again: remember: having these symptoms does not mean that you have or will get cancer, but it is important to consult your doctor.  You may like to print this page and take it with you. 

If you have already visited your GP and the symptoms continue or worsen, it is important to return and explain this to your doctor - you know your body better than anyone.

NOTE: Bleeding following the menopause or after sexual intercourse is NOT normal and needs to be investigated.

How to reduce the risk of Gynaecological Cancers

1. Reducing exposure to the HPV virus

Having safe sex (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 has been shown to protect them from HPV infection and help prevent vulval, vaginal and cervical cancers.

2. Be smokefree

Smoking increases the risk for cervical cancer in particular. Stopping now may start to reduce your risk and will help to improve your general health. www.quitsmoking.org.nz

3. A healthy diet and regular physical activity

Being overweight can increase the risk for some gynaecological cancers.  For helpful information and advice visit www.eatmovelive.govt.nz.  It may also be worth asking your doctor if you qualify for a "Green Prescription".

4. Cervical smear test (Pap test)

Having a three yearly cervical smear test from the age of 20, will help prevent cervical cancer.  It is important to know that cervical smear tests will not detect or protect against the other gynaecological cancers - Ovarian, Endometrial, Vulval or Vaginal cancer do not have any screening tests.