LIFESTYLE

Young Women Risking Health By Avoiding 'Vagina' Discussions With GP, Ovarian Cancer Charity Warns

17/08/2015 11:11 BST | Updated 17/08/2015 11:59 BST

Young women are increasing their risk of late diagnosis of diseases such as ovarian cancer because they are too embarrassed to say the word "vagina", experts have warned.

A study, conducted by Ovarian Cancer Action, discovered an alarming amount of women are avoiding seeking help for gynaecological issues out of embarrassment and fear of intimate examination.

Almost half of women aged 18-24 surveyed (48%) said they feared intimate examinations while 44% are too embarrassed to talk about sexual health issues with a GP.

Not knowing what words to use was a common problem identified by young women, with two thirds (66%) saying they’d be embarrassed to say the word "vagina".

woman in 20s at doctors

The study showed that young British women aged 18-24 are four times less likely to go to a doctor with a sexual health issue than their counterparts aged 55-65.

Instead of seeking medical help, more than half of younger women (57%) said they would turn to Google, with an additional one in five (17%) preferring to confide in their mums.

Just 17% of the younger age group said they would initially seek medical help if they suspected a gynaecological or sexual health problem, compared with 68% of the older age group, who would turn to a doctor straight away.

"The reluctance to see a doctor for gynaecological issues is really worrying and, while many of us have turned to the internet for help, googling symptoms is not a substitute for proper medical attention," Katherine Taylor, acting chief executive at Ovarian Cancer Action, said in a statement.

"Illnesses such as ovarian cancer - which kills a woman every two hours in the UK – is much easier to treat if it’s diagnosed early, so it’s incredibly important that women feel empowered to talk about their health and feel comfortable visiting healthcare professionals.

"We don’t want to be scaremongers – ovarian cancer is relatively rare in young women – but we do want to encourage women to talk about gynaecological health and help spread awareness of the symptoms of ovarian cancer.

"It’s so important that women are empowered to discuss these issues. Saying vagina won’t kill you, but avoiding saying it could."

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Worryingly, more than a third (38%) of young women surveyed couldn’t name a single symptom of ovarian cancer.

This comes despite the fact that ovarian cancer is the most deadly gynaecological cancer and currently the fifth most common cancer among women.

According to Ovarian Cancer Action, common symptoms include persistent stomach pain, persistent bloating or increased stomach size, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly and needing to urinate more frequently.

Commenting on the survey, Ellie Cohen, a 23-year-old from London who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer when she was just 19, said the disease "turned [her] life upside down".

"I had to leave uni so I could have chemotherapy near my parents’ house in London. It took a while to get a diagnosis, probably because I was so young. Nobody suspected cancer," she said.

"Although I am doing well now, this experience has really taught me the importance of speaking up about health issues. It’s so important that we listen to our bodies and don’t let shyness hold us back - it’s guaranteed that the doctor has heard it all before anyway.

"Now, if I feel the slightest twinge, I’m back to the doctors. That’s what saved my life last time and, as the old adage goes, it’s better to be safe than sorry."

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