Spotting Gynaecological Cancers

We share the signs you should look for and explain how your period could help with early detection.
Adam Hamdi
Written by

Coni Longden-Jefferson

Would you recognise the first symptoms of the most common gynaecological cancers? We share the signs you should look for and explain how your period could help with early detection. 


Key takeaways


  • There are five main gynaecological cancers - cervical womb, ovarian, vulva and vagina. 
  • These conditions are more common than you may think - but the good news is that early detection can dramatically increase survival rates. 
  • Your period is a great vital sign - and can give you an early indication of certain cancers 
  • There are also many other key symptoms to be aware of - including painful sex and strange discharge
  • Early detection could save your life - never ignore these symptoms and never miss your smear! 



What are gynaecological cancers?


Gynaecological cancer is any cancer that impacts the female reproductive organs. The five main ones are:  


Womb Cancer


Womb or uterine cancer is the most common cancer impacting our reproductive systems and the fourth most common in women overall after breast, lung and colon cancer. Anyone with a womb can be affected by uterine cancer but it's most common after menopause. 


Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer is another fairly common cancer in women. There are around 7,500 new ovarian cancer cases in the UK every year - which equates to around 21 a day. The condition is most common in women over 50 but it can affect people of all ages. Even if you have had your ovaries removed, there is a chance you could develop ovarian cancer as it can also affect the tissues of our fallopian tubes. 

Cervical Cancer


Cervical cancer is another common gynaecological cancer - but one with great survival rates if caught early. This is why it’s so important to attend regular screenings - screening aims to find and treat abnormal cells before they turn into cancer. Nearly all cervical cancers are caused by an infection triggered by human papillomavirus (HPV). The number of cervical cancer cases has dropped significantly since the introduction of the HPV vaccine.  

Vagina Cancer


A rare disease is vaginal cancer. Like cervical cancers, cancer of the vagina is thought to be connected to the HPV virus. This is likely because the cervix is the gateway to the vaginal can. Most common in women over 75, this disease also has a good survival rate when caught early.  


Vulva Cancer

Vulva cancer affects the area outside of your vagina - specifically the labia minora and majora. Vulva cancer manifests slightly differently from other gynaecological cancers - as it develops outside the body. Whilst this may be the rarest cancer in this group, it still affects around 1,400 people in the UK every year, that's around 4 every day! 



Can your period give you signs of gynaecological cancers?


We all know that your period is a vital sign that can tell you a lot about your overall health, but could it be an early indicator of gynaecological cancer? In some ways, yes! 


Bleeding between periods

Everyone's cycle is unique, and lots of things can affect the timing of your period - from stress to hormonal imbalances. If you start your period on a day you don’t expect to - don’t panic. However, if you are regularly spotting between periods, it could be a sign of uterine, ovarian or cervical cancer. This also goes for bleeding after menopause. Basically if you are bleeding from your vagina when you’re not on your period - you need to seek some help.   


Heavier and more painful periods


One of the most common symptoms of cervical and womb cancer is heavy bleeding. Again, there are many conditions that could be causing heavy periods and whilst they certainly require attention, their likelihood is that they are non-cancerous. 


Colour of your period

The colour of your period can also tell you a lot about your health. Colours like orange or black can be an indication of an infection or blockage, but when it comes to cancers, you want to look out for a lighter pink. A lighter pink - especially if seen in between periods -  might mean that there is bleeding happening within the reproductive system and that it is  mixing with the cervical mucus - masquerading as a lighter period.   


What are other signs of gynaecological cancers?


Pain during or after sex

This is a really common symptom for all of these cancers. Painful intercourse is not something you should expect or accept - and it certainly tells you something is wrong within your body - cancer or no cancer. Make sure you're comfortable saying ‘with all sexual partners - no matter how long you've been together. 


Pain when you go to the toilet


This is another common symptom across all five. The female reproductive system is so closely linked with the bladder and excretory system that neat effects one often affects the other - meaning going to the toilet can often be tough if living with cancer. 



Around 75% of people experience bloating around their period (that’s why we made our MyDebloat supplement) - but persistent bloating is often associated with ovarian cancer. Keep a diary of when bloating occurs. If it’s at certain points in your cycle or after eating certain foods, it’s unlikely something to be cornered about, but if it’s happening often, chat to your doctor. 


Strange discharge

Just as your period can give us an indicator of what is happening in our bodies - so can our discharge. Many gynaecological cancers come with a strange or foul-smelling vaginal discharge - and you may also notice a change in colour or texture. 

Growths or irritation

Internal growths are hard to notice without a scan but one of the first symptoms of vulva cancer is irritations and changes to the skin. You might notice itchiness,  a growth on the labia or even a change in how the skin looks and feels. People with vulva cancer often report raised and thickened patches of skin that can be red, white or dark.


Abnormal cells


Abnormal cells are the most surefire way to detect and diagnose cancer early. Whilst it’s not possible to screen for all cancers, going for your smear test will give your healthcare provider a great chance to screen for abnormal cells linked to cervical cancer. Women over 25 are invited to have a smear test once every 3 years - so be sure not to miss yours. 

If you are struggling with any of the above symptoms and have any concerns, we highly recommend you speak to your doctor ASAP. The earlier we detect cancer, the more chance we have of treating and curing it.