Womb cancer: the most common female cancer diagnosis you have never heard of

Professor Emma Crosbie, who has launched a new charity, Peaches Womb Cancer Trust, this month

Professor Emma Crosbie, who has launched a new charity, Peaches Womb Cancer Trust, this month Photo: Nikki Spratling - Credit: Archant

Manchester University’s Professor Emma Crosbie is launching a new national charity, Peaches Womb Cancer Trust

Team Womb, as Professor Emma Crosbie calls the women driving research into womb cancer
Photo: Nikki

Team Womb, as Professor Emma Crosbie calls the women driving research into womb cancer Photo: Nikki Spratling - Credit: Archant

Womb cancer is the fourth most common female cancer in the UK, but until now there has been little or no awareness of the disease and no nationwide charity to raise funds for research. This month, Emma Crosbie, Professor of Gynaecological Oncology at the University of Manchester, has launched Peaches Womb Cancer Trust.

“There are around 9,500 new cases of womb cancer each year and until now there has literally been no womb cancer-specific charity in the UK. Womb cancer has been considered a ‘good’ cancer to get, if you will; it mainly presents with bleeding after the menopause so if women go their GP and it gets diagnosed at an early stage it’s treatable, but we still have quite a lot of women dying of womb cancer and yet very little media attention, very little fuss, very little research effort and we wanted to change that.

“In my team here we have a number of young, obstetrics and gynaecology trainees doing PhDs and they all do womb cancer focussed projects and lots of these are looking at can we find a better way of diagnosing womb cancer, can we find a screening test, can we prevent it through various new interventions and can we find ways of treating it that are better than we currently have. A lack of research means that we haven’t really progressed very far in the last 30-40 years with womb cancer, whereas other cancers, such as breast cancer, we now have really well developed screening programmes, ways of identifying women at high risk, ways of preventing breast cancer, better treatments so that the number of women dying of breast cancer has dropped dramatically over the last 20-30 years. The case is not the same for womb cancer – cases are going up year-on-year, the numbers of deaths are going up year-on-year and still nothing is being done – and we wanted to do something about that.”

According to Professor Crosbie, womb cancers picked up at an early stage are often able to be treated by surgery, a hysterectomy to remove the womb might be the end of the trouble. However, if women don’t go forward and have tests it can become more aggressive and later stage and at that point surgery alone may not be curative and chemotherapy and radiotherapy may be needed, but still women may end up dying from this disease.

“If women don’t know that abnormal bleeding needs to be checked out immediately by their GP then they don’t have the opportunity to come and be diagnosed and treated early. About 80% of cases are after the menopause, so these women generally know that they shouldn’t be bleeding and they do come forward and be tested. Of course in the first few years after the menopause they may not know that this isn’t just a rogue period, or the bleeding may be very light and they put it down to a water infection and not realise they need to be checked out. For women who are pre-menopause they may not realise that their bleeding is abnormal; it could just be that their periods become heavier than before, that they have a bit of bleeding in between periods and often think it’s just because they’re approaching the change and it’s nothing to worry about and not go and get it checked out.

“One of our main aims with Peaches Womb Cancer Trust is to really highlight that any abnormal bleeding, any bleeding that is different than before needs to be checked out. There are very simply ways that women can be reassured, but we need to see them! An ultrasound scan to check the thickness of the lining of the womb will reassure most. Bleeding after the menopause is really very common and mostly it isn’t womb cancer, only about 5-10% of the time do we find a cancer causing that problem, but it’s that 10% we need to catch early.”

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Peaches Womb Cancer Trust has chosen the colour peach to sit alongside pink for breast cancer and teal for ovarian cancer, and to reflect the self-titled Peach Sisters of the support group, Womb Cancer Support UK. By placing the new female cancer charity firmly alongside those already well known, Emma and her team hope to grow awareness and funds quickly.

“We want to start the ball rolling on fundraising for the charity. Money will be spent on raising awareness, educating women, GPs and healthcare professionals who may not realise that bleeding needs to be investigated either and also for research. I run the ‘Team Womb’ research group where we do womb cancer focused research as part of being with the University of Manchester and we will use the funds to carry out research projects and give a cash injection to womb cancer research, which it really needs. The amount of money spent on womb cancer research is a tiny fraction spent on breast cancer or lung cancer, and we need to try and level it up a bit if we’re to see any kind of progress for women who are getting this cancer.

“When you ask people what they think the most common female cancers are, they say breast and then cervical, but actually because we have the screening process, meaning we can get to it early, we only see around 3,000 cases of cervical cancer per year, whereas we see nearly 10,000 cases of womb cancer per year.”

The ultimate aim is of course to get a screening process in place for womb cancer, as there already is for breast (the dreaded mammogram) and cervical (the equally dreaded smear test). Come on ladies, let’s make this happen!

Learn more about how you can support Peaches Womb Cancer Trust and help raise awareness.

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