Gynecological cancers account for about 12% of new female cancer diagnoses per year in the United Kingdom. Encouraging women with symptoms suggestive of gynecological cancer to seek help promptly could increase diagnosis of cancer at an earlier treatable stage. No studies have investigated the prevalence among women in the United Kingdom of symptoms potentially indicative of a gynecological cancer or the frequency and severity of symptoms or help-seeking behavior in response to symptoms. Identification of increased numbers of women at risk of gynecological cancers would have significant impact on the primary care workload.
This population-based survey investigated the prevalence of symptoms among women suggestive for gynecological cancer, frequency and severity of symptoms, and the potential impact of help-seeking interventions on primary care workload. Respondents were English-speaking women in the United Kingdom 16 years or older (n = 911), with a mean age of 45 years. Participants were shown a list of 13 symptoms potentially indicative of a gynecological cancer and were asked if they experienced any of these symptoms in the past 3 months. Women who reported symptoms were asked about their responses to 1 randomly selected index symptom.
Forty-four percent (398/911) of the respondents reported at least 1 of the 13 symptoms; 35% (n = 317/911) reported a symptom that was frequent and/or severe.
Women more likely to report a symptom indicative of a gynecological cancer were younger (P < 0.001), had a lower socioeconomic status (P < 0.01), and were nonwhite (P < 0.05). Only 14% of respondents (132/911) were both older (≥45 years) and had a frequent and/or severe symptom; of these women who are at higher risk of gynecological cancer, 62% had not seen a primary care physician.
These data show that large numbers of women have symptoms that potentially indicate a gynecological cancer. Encouragement of women with such symptoms who are younger and are at low risk of gynecological cancer to seek help would result in an unmanageable increase in the primary care workload. To limit this potential increase in primary care consultations, help-seeking interventions should be targeted at women who are at higher risk (older women with frequent and/or severe symptoms).
*Health Behaviour Research Centre, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London; †Health Services Research & Management, City University London; and ‡Gynaecological Cancer Research Centre, Institute of Women’s Health, University College London, London, UK