Gynaecological cancers make up approximately 10% of all cancer cases and cancer deaths in New Zealand. There are five main forms - ovarian, cervical, endometrial (or uterine), vaginal, and vulval. Every year approximately 1000 women are diagnosed with 1 of the 5 and of this approximately 400 women die every year. Ovarian cancer being the highest statistic, taking the life of 1 woman every 48 hours.
The only gynaecological cancer that has a screening programme in New Zealand is cervical cancer and this national programme is helping to reduce the number of women presenting with cervical cancer. However, no screening exists for the other four gynaecological cancers so it is crucial to know the signs and symptoms and have the knowledge so women can speak to their GP’s straight away.
Endometrial (Uterine) cancer is the most common of the gynae cancers; however, ovarian cancer has the lowest survival rates and is the fourth leading cause of cancer-related death in New Zealand women, behind only lung, breast, and colorectal cancers. In comparison, in 2012 there were 3,025 women diagnosed with breast cancer and of those 617 died.
In 2011 New Zealand’s five-year relative survival rates were:
Breast Cancer 87%
Uterine Cancer 78.5%
Cervical Cancer 72%
Ovarian Cancer 39%
These abysmal statistics are largely due to the fact that ovarian cancer can be difficult to detect and is therefore often diagnosed at a late stage. The symptoms of a gynae cancer can often initially be mistaken for less serious health matters and by the time a woman gets to her doctor, it is often too late.
Early detection significantly increases the likelihood of surviving any of the gynae cancers and this is just one of the many reasons why it is our mission to increase awareness of the signs and symptoms – with not just women but the medial fraternity also, especially GPs to ensure that issues are picked up as early as possible.