Below the belt
Dealing with gynaecological cancers
Traditionally the issue of gynaecological cancers has not been discussed in public, but attitudes are changing as more and more women suffer from such illnesses.
In fact, without giving the exact figures, doctors say more and more Barbadian women are dying from ‘below the belt’ cancers, which include cancer of the ovaries, uterus, cervix, vagina and vulva.
“The message I want to give women is to be aware of your body. Look and be aware of yourself in terms of what is normal for you. When you see differences or changes to your body, pay attention to them, it may be a sign of pre-cancer.
“I think it’s very important for them to know that with things like cervical cancer there are screening tests out there, you can get your pap smear and pick up cancer before it develops. And you can treat these things with regards to womb cancer. Any bleeding after the menopause is abnormal, so you need to visit the gynaecologist,” Gynaecologist, Obstetrician and Gynae-Oncologist, Dr Vikash Chatrani told Barbados TODAY.
According to him, in the case of ovarian cancer there are non-specific symptoms and it is therefore important that women pay attention to their body.
“If there’s changes to their bodies that persist for more than two weeks, they feel their tummy bloating, changes in bowel habits, changes in their urinary habits, this may be an early sign [of ovarian cancer],” he said.
Early detection and prevention is possible, Dr Chatrani added, if women get screened regularly and adopt healthy lifestyles.
“Eat right, exercise right, make sure they visit their doctors on a regular basis… and if you do the right things we can reduce not only the incidence but the mortality associated with gynaecological cancers,” Dr Chatrani said.
Medical experts also advise women to start screening and doing pap smears from age 23, as pre-cancer of the cervix can be present during their 20s, while the actual cancer can occur during the 30s.
Ovarian and uterine cancers are common among women 50 years and older.
However Dr Chatrani noted that in the past five years, there have been rare cases of girls as young as nine years old being diagnosed with gynaecological cancers.
Obstetrician Gynaecologist Dr Wayne Welch also advocates regular screening. He noted that while cases of cervical cancer are on the decline, there has been an increase in cancers of the uterus and ovaries.
“Women over 50, where they have stopped seeing their periods, should not think ‘that’s the end of it’. That’s now the beginning. That’s where you can get ovarian cancer, vulva cancer and uterine cancer.
“So we’re actually asking those people to come out and be screened. And you can be screened for these cancers,” Welch said.
A new Gynaecology-Oncology Diagnostic and Treatment Centre was opened at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital last December, which offers such services to women.
Dr Welch stated that the Centre has also helped to improve the quality of life for some patients.
“It’s not just a cure we’re looking for. We have clients who were almost bed-ridden, and they have gotten up and walked around and they are living today. They are not cured, but their quality of life is very, very important.”
Health care providers will take the message to the public on Sunday when the Barbados Cancer Society hosts its fourth annual Globeathon, which is aimed at highlighting the issues of ‘below the belt’ cancers and raising funds for treatment.