Women today lead incredibly busy lives. They run and organise homes and build successful careers, usually all whilst taking on the majority share of caring for their children and often their older relatives. It is therefore not uncommon for women to have little or no time to look after themselves, their health included.
In addition to not making time to prioritise their health, it seems that when women do put their health first and seek medical advice, they are less likely to feel heard and supported in comparison to their male counterparts.
A recent survey by The Department of Health and Social Care found that “more than 4 in 5 (84%) women they surveyed had experienced times when they (or the woman they had in mind) were not listened to by healthcare professionals.”
Based on the data they collected, ‘not being listened to’ appears to be present at all stages of the healthcare pathway. Specifically, many women told them:
- their symptoms were not taken seriously and/or dismissed upon first contact with GPs and other health professionals
- they had to persistently advocate for themselves to secure a diagnosis, often over multiple visits, months and years
- if they did secure a diagnosis, there were limited opportunities to discuss or ask questions about treatment options and their preferences were often ignored
Many women recalled their symptoms being dismissed upon first contact with GPs and other professionals; women felt they had to persistently advocate for themselves to secure a diagnosis, often over multiple visits, months and years; and post-diagnosis, discussions about treatment options were often limited, and some said their preferences were ignored.
To make matters worse, there is some evidence that due to historical clinical trials being disproportionately male-orientated there is much less research into women-only health concerns and assumptions have been made that similar medical treatments will work for both sexes. The top reasons for the under-representation of women in trials were the belief that hormone fluctuations could influence results and concerns that fertility could be affected. A widely accepted negative repercussion, amongst others, being that women are much more likely to experience adverse side effects of medications because drug dosages have historically been based on clinical trials conducted on men.
A combination of these factors may explain why there is a gender gap in health outcomes, with women experiencing poorer health outcomes in comparison to men. We strongly believe in equality and ensuring health is a top priority for all.
Therefore, here are the top health symptoms women should never ignore:
1) Any change in bowel habit and/ or urination
This includes blood in the stools, unexplained persistent abdominal pain, weight loss, lumps around the anus, lack of appetite, blood in the urine or increased frequency of urination. These are all reasons for seeing your doctor ASAP as these symptoms could be due to bowel, bladder or ovarian cancer. All patients should have an annual faecal occult blood (FOB) test to exclude bowel cancer, which has increased in incidence in the UK for reasons unknown. Or if you are looking for a more in-depth investigation, you should request a colonoscopy which entails looking at the bowel with a colonoscopy. This is the gold standard, but an FOB is the next best thing and far less invasive as a first investigative option. It takes no time at all and is a good preventative check.
2) Any changes to the breast.
Any breast lumps, skin changes, nipple discharge, nipple changes or pain in the breast must be checked ASAP. Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in the UK and often can present insidiously. Get to know what your breast feels like so that any subtle changes can be detected as early as possible.
3) Skin lesions that do not heal.
Any scab on the skin which does not heal, especially around the eyes, nose, ears and face should be checked. All these areas are the most sun-exposed, and, as such, are more at risk of skin cancer. If these lesions are picked up and treated early, scarring is minimal, but if left, then disfiguring scars and skin grafts may be necessary.
4) Bleeding after the menopause.
If you experience any bleeding after 1-year of your last menstrual period, you must visit your GP for further investigation. Bleeding after the menopause is not common and could be an indicator of cancer of the uterus, or the cervix. They will usually opt for a biopsy of the uterine lining to exclude both – don’t worry, this doesn’t hurt.
5) Always have regular cervical screens.
Most people don’t find cervical screens painful, although they can feel somewhat uncomfortable. If you are concerned about the pain or you have previously found the procedure painful with the NHS, you can opt to book a private appointment. It is important that you don’t miss your appointment.
6) Bleeding between periods.
At any age, you should never ignore bleeding between periods or after intercourse, as this can be a sign of cervical or uterine cancer. Whilst cervical cancer is monitored by regular screening, it is important to still get bleeding between periods checked out following a normal smear result. Cancer of the endometrium is becoming increasingly common in women who have not had children.
7) A persistent cough.
Regardless of gender, you should get a persistent cough checked out by your doctor, especially if you are coughing up discoloured sputum or blood.
8) Any unexplained changes to your body.
Any new indigestion, shortness of breath on exertion, neck or left arm pain requires follow up ASAP. Make sure a GP examines your chest and makes the appropriate investigations.
The same applies to calf pain or any pain in the chest. By taking a full history, examining you and doing quick and easy investigations, worrying conditions can be excluded, such as a pulmonary embolism or a heart attack.
Some recent examples of cases where other healthcare providers have failed our new female patients:
1) We saw a 36 year old who had not had a cervical screening for 5-years because the last one was so painful. The NHS advises a screening every 3-years but we advise yearly screenings to ensure any abnormalities are found as early as possible. 5-years is far too long!
2) We saw a woman who had a suspicious lump at her anal margin, which her usual GP had told her was part of her bladder. She wanted a second opinion because it had grown in size and was now painful. The patient was referred for an urgent assessment to exclude cancer.
3) We saw an 88 year old patient who was disfigured by a large basal cell carcinoma on her forehead, about which she was embarrassed. The patient had been seen by a dermatologist who had frightened her about having the lesion removed by saying she might not survive an anaesthetic. The patient wished that she had taken the risk and asked to be referred back, as the skin lesion was disfiguring and ruining her quality of life.
** The outcomes of these patients are yet unknown, but they are all certainly serious health concerns that should have been properly addressed long before now.
We want to encourage women to take ownership over their health and be assertive when they feel that something has changed from our normal. If they feel like they are not being taken seriously or not being heard, they should seek a second opinion.
If you cannot get an appointment with your usual GP or through the NHS, rather than waiting for weeks and worrying about what it could be, make an appointment with a private GP who can usually see you on the same day!
Put your mind at ease with private healthcare.
Women between the ages of 25 and 64 are invited for regular cervical screenings where a healthcare professional looks at the health of the cervix to detect any cell changes or abnormalities. However, in recent years the number of women attending their cervical screen has fallen, with women between 25-29 having the lowest attendance rates. This is deeply concerning as over 3000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year and 99.8% of those cases are preventable. Prevention is always easier than curing, and the earlier you are aware of any cell changes, the easier it is to treat.
Why do some women not attend their cervical screenings?
One of our general practitioners, Dr Belinda Griffiths, has found that in her experience women don’t attend their cervical screenings for a number of reasons including: difficulties with taking time off work for a GP appointment, fear of embarrassment, and fear of the process being uncomfortable or painful.
However, to combat these concerns, the NHS has launched at-home HPV kits. Dr Griffiths explains how they work – “The HPV test is highly sensitive so it separates out those who are HPV-positive and HPV-negative. Those who are HPV-negative will be considered ‘low risk’ for cervical cancer and will be asked to do a future test. Those who are HPV-positive will be deemed ‘high risk’ and be asked to attend for follow-up with a clinician whereby they will conduct a cervical screening to check the health of their cervix and investigate if any abnormal cells are present.”
These new tests are the same process as at-home STI tests whereby a simple swab collects the sample from the vagina. Having the option of this sort of test at home removes the fear some women may have surrounding the slightly more intrusive cervical screen.
What is HPV?
HPV (human papillomavirus) is a common virus passed on via skin-to-skin contact, usually through genital contact. There are many types of HPV, most of which are harmless, don’t usually cause any symptoms and the infection will go away on its own. However, others are deemed ‘high risk’ as they can persist and cause cell changes which can lead to cancer. It is thought that these ‘high risk’ HPV strains are responsible for around 80% of cervical cancer cases, making the detection of HPV all the more important.
How can you prevent HPV?
You can be protected from certain HPV strains through vaccination. There are two HPV vaccines currently available in the UK: Gardasil which protects against 4 strains of HPV used in the NHS and the vaccine used here at the Fleet Street Clinic, Gardasil-9, which protects against 9 of the high-risk HPV strains.
When can you be vaccinated against HPV?
The NHS now routinely offers the Gardasil vaccine to girls and boys around age 12/13, before the age people generally become sexually active. However, the vaccination programme only came into full force in 2019, meaning many people are currently unvaccinated. It should be pointed out that adults can get vaccinated at any age and even if you have already been exposed to HPV, the vaccine can still offer protection against other strains to which you have not yet been exposed.
It is a particularly good idea for people to get vaccinated before they attend university or before they go travelling on a ‘gap year’, as these are typically times where young people are more sexually active and therefore more likely to be exposed to HPV.
It is important to note that getting the HPV vaccination most certainly doesn’t mean missing or not participating in HPV tests or cervical screenings. A combination of these preventative measures gives you the highest possible chance of preventing cervical cancer.
MARCH IS OVARIAN CANCER AWARENESS MONTH
A vital month raising awareness of ovarian cancer to improve early diagnosis to save lives.
More women died from ovarian cancer in the UK (4,227) than from all other gynaecological cancers combined in 2016, according to Cancer Research UK. However, worryingly one in five women in the UK (22%) mistakenly believe that a smear test (cervical screening) can detect ovarian cancer, according to research Target Ovarian Cancer carried out with YouGov.
We are committed to raising awareness of the disease.
Speak to one of our female GP’s about any concerns you may have about your gynaecological history and your families medical history. During your consultation, we will also conduct a breast check and pelvic examination.
“In the UK a woman dies every two hours from ovarian cancer, but the earlier the diagnosis the better the chances are”
Professor Hani Gabra – Director of Ovarian Cancer Action Research Centre
What is ovarian cancer?
Ovarian cancer is when abnormal cells in the ovary begin to grow and divide in an uncontrolled way and eventually form a growth (tumour). Every year 7,300 women in the UK are diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
Who can get ovarian cancer?
The risk of developing ovarian cancer increases as you get older. The most common type of ovarian cancer is epithelial ovarian cancer, this usually occurs in women older than 50 years old. We don’t know exactly what causes epithelial ovarian cancer. But some factors may increase or reduce the risk.
Factors that increase the risk include:
- getting older
- inherited faulty genes
- having breast cancer before
Factors that may reduce the risk include:
- taking the contraceptive pill
- having children
Ovarian Cancer is notoriously difficult to spot.
With non-specific symptoms in the early stages. It is hoped that this new method of early diagnosis could help save lives.
How to recognise the symptoms of Ovarian Cancer:
Early Ovarian Cancer symptoms can be similar to those of other conditions, these some to watch out for:
- Persistent bloating – not bloating that comes and goes
- Pain in the lower stomach and pelvis
- Difficulty Eating and feeling full quickly
- Back pain
- Change in bowel habits
What should you do if you’re worried?
It is important to contact your GP as soon as possible if you spot any symptoms that are abnormal for you.
We understand talking about your concerns and having an examination can be quite worrying and for some, embarrassing, therefore, to make you as comfortable as possible, all our well woman services are booked with a female GP.
There is an Ovarian Cancer Blood Test – CA 125 available
Levels of protein CA125 in the blood are recognised as a marker for ovarian cancer. This simple and effective blood test will detect early stages of ovarian cancer. You can either have this as a stand-alone blood test or add it on to your medical for an additional cost. Please inquire for prices..
For more information about Fleet Street Clinic’s Women’s Health Services.
You can also book a GP appointment online.
At Fleet Street Clinic, we have seen a rise in the number of women opting to use the coil as their contraception of choice.
We have 2 options available, the Copper IUD and the Mirena IUS. Both options are fitted into the womb and are 99% effective against unwanted pregnancies, working straight away.
The main difference between the IUD and the IUS is what it releases into the womb. The IUD releases copper and the IUS releases the hormone progestogen. In most cases, the choice is down to personal preference but you can speak with our nurse/ GP in your appointment if you’re undecided which option you’d prefer.
The coil is a popular choice as it works straight away after insertion, it doesn’t interrupt sex and doesn’t interrupt other medications. In addition, for those who’re planning a family, once removed, it is possible to get pregnant straight away. It is also safe to use if planning on breastfeeding.
The coil requires a removal and replacement after a set time period and is dependant on the type of coil fitted.
- Copper IUD – Lasts for 5 to 10 years before replacement.
- Mirena IUS – Lasts for 3 to 5 years before replacement.
Your coil can be removed at any time by a trained doctor or nurse. Find out more about the contraceptive coil.
We strongly believe that women shouldn’t have to wait unnecessarily to have a coil either fitted or removed.
Copper IUD Coil Fitting is £375*
Duration: 45 minutes
Mirena IUD Coil Fitting is £375*
Duration: 45 minutes
Coil Removal is £175*
Duration: 30 minutes
All examinations are carried out by a female doctor in a comfortable and private setting.
*Pricing is subject to change, this is based on 2021 clinic pricing and includes appointment fee.