Looking to find out more about why taking care of your gynaecological health is so important? Here are signs you should look out for, places to go, and next steps to take.
January is cervical cancer month and we’re starting the new year with health as a top priority. For many women, making an appointment with an obstetrician or gynaecologist (often known as OB or GYN) can be intimidating, but the truth is it’s always better to get checked earlier, rather than later. Taking care of your health should always be put on the top of our to-do list.
Why is it so important to take care of your sexual health?
In Hong Kong between 2,000 to 3,000 women annually are affected by gynaecological cancers. Unfortunately in many cases (and when the visit to the OBGYN has been put off too long), it’s too late as these types of cancers spread fast. It is vital that you get regularly checked to ensure an early diagnosis, which can ensure higher cure and survival rates. It is suggested by the World Health Organisation that woman aged 30 to 49 should go through for cervical cancer screening on a 3-5 year basis. Of course, women who are not in this age range are also suggested to get screened if they have been sexually active (before 30 years of age) or you have never taken the test before (after 49 years of age).
Signs to look out for:
As mentioned before, some gynaecological cancers may have no symptoms at all and can only be picked up via the correct screening methods and tests. As a rule of thumb the further you move down the list, the more severe an actual diagnosis might be, with abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge being the most common symptom and pointing towards four options out of the five main gynaecological cancers.
Of course, a number of health conditions can be associated with such symptoms, but if you currently experience any of them, be brave and consult your doctor for clarity and peace of mind.
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge
- Feel full too quickly or difficulty eating
- Pelvic pain or pressure
- More frequent or urgent need to urinate and/or constipation
- Abnormal back pain
- Itching, burning, pain, or tenderness of vulva
- Changes in vulva colour or skin, such as a rash, sores or warts
Types of gynaecological cancer:
There are several types of gynaecological cancer and out of the five most common ones; three are in the top 10 cancers for women in Hong Kong*. In place four is corpus cancer, also called uterine cancer, which includes all forms of endometrial cancer. Endometrial cancer appears in the lining cell of uterus, and uterine sarcoma and in rare cases in the muscle tissue inside the uterus. Ovarian and cervical cancer follow in sixth and seventh place and are the most deadly cancers as they are hard to reach with any currently available radiation treatments and very often when diagnosed, have already metastasised into other parts of the body. Vaginal and vulvar cancer complete the list of the five most common female cancers. Two additional, but very rare types of women’s cancer are fallopian tube cancer (sometimes it is classified under ovarian cancer) and gestational trophoblastic disease, which is a pregnancy-related cancer.
What are the next steps?
The Pap-smear is considered the simplest and most cost-effective way for women to get screened and will set you back in Hong Kong between $100 to $1,500 depending on whether you choose the public or private route. If your results come back normal, you are off the hook for another year and if your second smear comes back again normal you can take a break for three years thereafter, although most private physicians or gynaecologists suggest one-year intervals for cervical smears in Hong Kong.
However, most recently more and more research is being published which suggests that the investment into an HPV test is the way to go. Unlike the Pap which examines cell mutation at the cervix, the HPV DNA test looks for high-risk strains of the human papillomavirus which have been proven to be the carcinogenic agent for cervical and other cancers.
In Hong Kong, the HPV test is only available in private practices and will set you back a hefty $2,500 – $4,000. It may seem like a lot but, combined with a cervical smear, will ensure your peace of mind for five years – a great strategy to avoid those annual trips to your OBGYN! So, go and book that dreaded appointment and speak to your physician about what options you have.
Other options to make sure everything is on track “down there” are regular whole-body health checkups or maternal checkups. All of those preventative measures can ensure optimal gynaecological health as they routinely include a cervical smear, a mammogram and an abdominal scan. Most insurance firms are also now stepping up prevention services to avoid large payment for cancer treatments down the line, offering special policies available that cover those checkups.
Places in Hong Kong:
Depending on your budget and preference you may simply choose your regular GP to conduct an annual Health Check, which normally includes a cervical screen as well as a blood test to pick up any cancer markers. If you would like to visit a reliable specialist clinic we recommend our trusted charity partners:
Get screened and take of yourselves!
Featured Image courtesy of Getty, Image #1 courtesy of Getty, Image #2 courtesy of Getty