Hi, my name is Dafina and at 35 my life changed forever. I was diagnosed with stage 2 womb cancer which had already spread to my ovaries, despite being told by doctors to take Activia yoghurt for the "bloating". The only option to save my life was to have a total hysterectomy which meant the removal of my uterus and both ovaries. Womb cancer deprived me of having my own children. I was also put into immediate surgical menopause after the operation.
Many women have lost their lives due to late diagnosis. I am lucky to be alive to write this, but what about those who are diagnosed at an even later stage than I was?
At the moment the only check available for a woman’s reproductive system is cervical screening (smear test), usually carried out by a nurse every 3 years from age 25 to 64. This test is very important but more needs to be done as it only tests for abnormal cervical cells that could develop into cervical cancer, which is just 1 out of the 5 gynaecological cancers.
According to Cancer Research UK, 3,000 women are diagnosed every year with Cervical cancer. But 19,000 women are diagnosed with the other types of gynaecological cancer for which there aren’t any checks:
- Womb cancer (9,700 women diagnosed each year)
- Ovarian cancer (7,500 women diagnosed each year)
- Vulval cancer (1,400 women diagnosed each year)
- Vaginal cancer (250 women diagnosed each year)
Because there are no checks for these, I wonder how many of these thousands of women were diagnosed too late?
In February 2014, before my diagnosis, I had my regular cervical screening and the results showed nothing abnormal. Five months later I began to experience extreme bloating and went to my GP almost monthly. Because GP’s in the UK don’t include any female-specific checks during the consultation, the symptoms were assumed to be gluten-related bloating and I was advised to take yoghurt to help my digestion; my GP did not even touch my abdomen once. Soon after this I began bleeding between my periods and in November that year, while I was abroad, a simple pelvic examination immediately revealed that I was carrying a 14cm (5.5in) tumour weighing 500g (17oz) in my womb.
If I had the opportunity to see a GP specialised in women’s health and undergone a proper check-up focusing on female reproductive health (possibly even a pelvic examination) at least once in the previous years, the growing tumour would have been noticed much earlier on, before any of the symptoms developed or had spread to other organs. I would have had it removed and I would have avoided all the consequences of the late diagnosis that I am now living with.
Currently, the UK’s approach to healthcare is reactive, not preventative. The system is symptom-driven, which relies upon us discovering an issue ourselves and then going to our GP; in some cases, we need to convince them that we are ill. But by the time we notice symptoms the issue has already developed and it can be too late, like in my case, for any preventative measures.
Furthermore, only if the GP decides that further investigation is required, then we get referred to a specialist, adding delay. As standard GP appointments are only 10 minutes long, there is very little time for a woman to discuss an issue properly and be understood, never mind for the GP to carry out any kind of check or examination. This results in a prolonged guessing game.
In summary, our lives are in the hands of our GP, most of whom are not trained in this area.
Most gynaecological cancers are frequently not detected early enough to be successfully treated because, at the early stages, these cancers are often asymptomatic or present with non-specific symptoms. But we are still told to wait for our symptoms to develop and then see our GP. This is wrong!
Every year in the UK, over 22,000 women are diagnosed with a form of gynaecological cancer. Sadly, over 7,600 women die from a gynaecological cancer every year, which is 21 women each day. (Cancer Research UK)
UK ovarian cancer survival rates lag significantly behind countries such as Thailand, Turkey and Romania. France’s ovarian cancer survival rate is 43% whereas Great Britain is only 36%. Overall, UK ranks 45th out of the 59 countries across the globe. (Ovarian Cancer UK)
We need to change this!
In many other countries throughout Europe and worldwide such as: France, Germany, Italy, Finland, Sweden, Belgium, Luxembourg, Czech Republic, Malta, Macedonia the US, Brazil, Israel, Réunion, Japan, the Philippines and many more, girls and women have the option to access yearly women’s health check up (including gynaecological examinations) not only to test for cancer but to check for any abnormalities and maintain good gynaecological health.
In the UK it is not usual to visit a women’s health specialist for any kind of check-up, but this should be as normal as visiting your dentist. In practice, a GP with appropriate training and an interest in women's health should be able to provide this service.
The benefits of having regular women’s health check-ups are:
- Early diagnosis, where issues can be highlighted before becoming too serious or even before we realise something is wrong, often resulting in a better and longer life!
- Giving girls and women a chance to openly discuss any gynaecological concerns with a specialist such as: periods, sex, contraception, fertility, pregnancy, menopause (and osteoporosis).
- They usually involve breast and pelvic examinations to check for masses, growths, fibroids, endometriosis, PCOS or other abnormalities.
- Cervical screening (if it is due) as per the current system.
- Finally, it would break the taboo around the subject of our reproductive system.
The best protection is early detection! Many women’s health issues, including cancer, can be treated, and the chance of a positive outcome greatly improved simply if discovered early on.
Please support me in this petition to help save the lives of our: sisters, daughters, mothers, wives, girlfriends, friend and people with female reproductive organs.
Women’s health care in this country severely fail women of all ages and urgent change is needed.
The time to change women’s health is NOW!
Please sign and share this petition on all your social media platforms. We need to reach 50,000 signatures to take this to the next level. United we can really make things happen!
To follow this movement visit:
· Instagram page - @checkMEupUK, @dafimalov
· Twitter - @Dafina5
· Facebook - @ checkMEupUK