THE BLOG

Tackling the Taboo of Women's Cancers Is Bleedin' Obvious

16/03/2016 08:34 GMT | Updated 16/03/2017 09:12 GMT

Hands up - or rather, keep your arm firmly fixed to your side - if you've ever walked through the office with a tampon shoved up your sleeve. Why the stealth? Why the covert operation? Note too the language used in advertising tampons and other period paraphernalia - the words 'secret' and 'discreet' come up again and again. Then there are all the euphemisms about 'visitors', 'times of the month' and all the silly names used to avoid calling a vagina a vagina (a fou fou, a flower or a front bottom instead).

A woman sheds the lining of her uterus every 25 days or so. They do this for around 40 years of their lives. You get to know your own body and you know what's normal for you - if things change you should go to the doctor. If you don't, and you ignore gynae symptoms and changes - it can have disastrous consequences. Every one of the five women-only gynae cancers can involve changes to bleeding - and if we never talk about our periods, that's one big potential obstacle to recognising the danger signs.

As the CEO of The Eve Appeal, one of the first charities to benefit from the new Government fund for women's health and support established with revenue from the Tampon Tax, I'm determined to get us talking more about periods, menopause, gynae symptoms and how stigma, taboo and secrecy have a huge impact on the late diagnosis of women-specific cancers.

Indeed it is one tiny bit of progress that we're now freely describing the levy on period products ('sanitary' towels and tampons) as the Tampon Tax - even in Parliament they freely use the 'T' word. If left to the advertisers, where would we be? The Discreet Feminine Product Tax perhaps? The Lady Garden Levy? How about the Tush Tithe anybody?

Straight talking on all things gynae is what's needed. March is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month and The Eve Appeal is encouraging women (and men) to call an ovary an ovary. They also need to know where that ovary is and what to look out for in case something's not quite right.

Increasing awareness of ovarian cancer will save lives - this disease really does need a boot up the health agenda. A very hard kick to get it the attention and funding it deserves. It's a women-specific cancer that's too little known and too little talked about. Survival rates are low, few treatments available and few in the pipeline. What we often hear about is that diagnosis comes late - either because a woman hasn't recognised the symptoms, or because her GP didn't.

Every two hours, every day, in the UK a woman dies from ovarian cancer. That's 12 - mothers, daughters and friends - and it's definitely 12 women too many. Over 7,000 women a year receive a diagnosis of ovarian cancer, and of that, what's really brutal, is that over 4,300 will die within five years.

Our ambition is to see a stage shift in when ovarian cancer is diagnosed so that women can benefit from some of the advances in targeted therapies. The five year survival rate for women diagnosed with ovarian cancer is 46%. If diagnosed at Stage 1 - and less than a third of cases currently are - this survival rate would be 90%. So it's clear that with ovarian cancer, one ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure.

So early detection is key, but currently only 3% of women in the UK are very confident of spotting all the symptoms of ovarian cancer - we've clearly got some work to do.

Making sure women feel comfortable and confident in talking about changes in their bodies is vital. Conversation is a powerful tool in the battle to get gynae cancers the awareness they deserve. 60% of the 1000 women questioned in our recent survey said they felt most comfortable discussing a health issue such as ovarian cancer over a cup of tea with friends or family at home - and the same research shows that nearly 17% of women don't feel comfortable talking about a serious gynae health concern anywhere. We have to change that. We need to encourage women to speak openly about gynaecological health, whether it's with friends, family members or healthcare professionals.

If you're diagnosed today with ovarian cancer, your chance of surviving the disease is pretty much the same as it would have been in 1970. That grim prognosis might not have shifted in over 40 years, but language and taboos certainly have - let's make sure that this is the case for all things gynae.

Let's take on the period-avoiding-world. Let's declare a Code Red on ovarian cancer.

The Eve Appeal survey was released to mark the start of Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month and the launch of our Make Time for Tea campaign. A number of celebrities have joined in the conversation and identified their dream tea party guests to support the Make Time for Tea campaign.