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Gabrielle Neal discovered she had womb (endometrial) cancer at the age of 58. Thankfully, early diagnosis and treatment saved her life.
• Womb cancer, also known as endometrial cancer or cancer of the uterus, is cancer of the womb lining.
• Womb cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women in the UK. Every year, over 7,500 women are diagnosed with it.
• Over one-third of womb cancers are thought to be related to being overweight.
• Almost all (93%) womb cancers are in women over 50. Most women are diagnosed between the ages of 60 and 65, but younger women can get the disease.
• Survival rates are good and are improving. Over 77% of women diagnosed with this cancer are still living five years later.
"I’d been looking forward to a family Christmas with my husband, children and grandchildren for months," says Gabrielle from Woodbridge in Suffolk.
"On Christmas eve, we had a full house with lots of activity and celebrating. But I couldn’t enjoy myself as I felt exhausted and had to go to bed early.
"On Christmas morning, I noticed there was blood on my dressing gown, as if I was having a very light period. This was unexpected. I’d begun going through the menopause a decade earlier and was taking a type of HRT that was period-free.
"I was anxious not to let the bleeding spoil the day, so I soldiered on feeling very drained. When I went to bed on Christmas night, I realised that I’d forgotten to take my HRT pill the previous evening. Presuming this was the reason for my bleeding, I put it to the back of my mind.
"But the spotting continued over the next week. There wasn't a massive amount of blood, but enough that I had to wear a pad. I suspected something was wrong, so when the family left at New Year, I went to my GP. After hearing about my symptoms and giving me an internal examination, she instantly referred me to our local hospital."
• vaginal bleeding between periods if you're over the age of 40
• vaginal bleeding after the menopause
Tell your doctor straightaway if you have any irregular bleeding, whether it’s spotting, streaking or full-blown bleeding. The chances are that it won’t be cancer, but it needs to be checked.
If the bleeding continues or gets worse, go back to your GP. Irregular bleeding is not a typical symptom of the menopause.
Like her GP, Gabrielle’s specialist was concerned that she’d suddenly started bleeding so many years after the menopause. An ultrasound test showed that something was wrong, and a biopsy of the lining of the womb confirmed that Gabrielle had womb (endometrial) cancer.
"Within days of the diagnosis, I was operated on and had a hysterectomy, where my ovaries and fallopian tubes were removed as well as my womb. The doctors didn’t want to take any risks when it came to getting all the cancer out.
"Thankfully, the operation was a great success. I was pronounced clear of cancer and didn’t need to have any chemotherapy.
"I now know that bleeding after the menopause is the main symptom of womb cancer and I did the right thing by going to see my doctor about it. If I’d left it any later, I might not be here now.
"I feel very lucky to have had an early diagnosis and wonderful medical care. I’ve felt so much better and full of vitality since the operation."
Three years later, Gabrielle remains clear of cancer. She’s set up a local East Anglian group of the gynaecological cancer charity the Eve Appeal, to encourage women to feel less embarrassed about discussing intimate symptoms such as vaginal bleeding, and to take action if they need to.
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