Women’s Health Screening at our fingertips

Women’s Health Screening at our fingertips

Women’s Health Screening at our fingertips

By Amanda Nash

Hello, as a Women’s Health Nurse here at TDHS, I have had the privilege and opportunity of volunteering in developing countries over the last few years – either raising awareness or screening women for female cancers.

Just this weekend I have been asked if I would again use my skills in Fiji. It is 3 years since the remote communities have had access to international dental, medical, surgical and women’s health screening. Due to COVID-19 these annual outreach clinics have been on hold.

In Australia, health screening and tests have continued to be provided, regardless of COVID restrictions, as they are seen as essential services, but the rates of cancer diagnosis are set to rise over the coming months as the community have not maintained regular health appointments during the pandemic.

It is relevant, during this month, that I highlight a cancer that affects over 1500 women in Australia each year. It is the 6th most common cause of cancer death in Australian women.

Today is Teal Ribbon Day where we, as a community, are asked to focus on Ovarian Cancer.

Many of the symptoms of Ovarian Cancer are vague, so it’s important that you listen to your body and know what is normal for you, it will then be easier to recognise when things change and then seek professional advice. If you are not happy with your healthcare provider’s advice, seek another.

Some of the symptoms include:

Bloating, abdominal or pelvic pain, feeling full after eating small amounts, frequent urination (with no infection), changes in bowel habits, back pain, heartburn, pain during intercourse, excessive fatigue, unexplained weight gain or loss and unexplained bleeding.

Risk factors for ovarian cancer – include increasing age, over 50 (on average 64 years) family history – ovarian cancer, breast or bowel cancer, never having given birth, and early onset of periods – (before 12 years), experiencing late menopause (over 55 years), never taken the contraceptive pill, having endometriosis, previous breast cancer or diabetes, smokers, being overweight/ obese, and being on long-term oestrogen only menopause replacement therapy or fertility treatment

Protective factors- having children before the age 35, breastfeeding, taking combined hormone contraceptives and surgical removal of the ovaries & fallopian tubes.

When you have symptoms, it is important to keep a record of how often the symptoms occur and make an appointment to see your GP. If you experience some of the symptoms of ovarian cancer for more than 2 weeks, and they are a change from the normal for you, ask your doctor about the possibility of ovarian cancer.

Ovarian Cancer Australia has produced a symptom diary.  It’s a great tool that helps women to easily record symptoms that may be associated with ovarian cancer and more common and less serious conditions.

After recording their symptoms, women can use the Symptom Diary to clearly communicate with their doctor about symptoms they are experiencing.

An electronic version of the Symptom Diary or mobile app called K.I.S.S. and Make Up can be downloaded from www.ovariancancer.net.au.

There is currently no effective screening program for ovarian cancer available in Australia and even though there is some exciting research happening around the possibility of a simple blood test to screen for various cancers, this is still a little way off becoming widely available. It is also worth noting that screening tests look for types of cancer in people who do not have any symptoms (like Breast Screen, Bowel Screen and the Cervical Screening Test). Also, a little reminder, that the Cervical Screening Test (which has replaced the Pap test) looks for Human Papillomavirus (HPV), which causes most cases of cervical cancer, but unfortunately not Ovarian Cancer.

For more information or to book an appointment at our Well Women’s Clinic, please phone (03) 5558 6000. Or you can contact the Timboon Clinic on (03) 5558 6088 to see one of our GP’s.

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