Young women too self-conscious to seek medical help

17 August 2015

Young women are avoiding seeking help for gynaecological issues out of embarrassment and fear of intimate examination - with more than half turning to google instead, according to a our new study released today (17 August).

We commissioned the survey to encourage younger women to speak up about gynaecological health issues, highlight the symptoms of ovarian cancer and address the misconception that ovarian cancer only occurs in older women.

The study shows that young British women (aged 18-24) are four times less likely to go to a doctor with a sexual health issue than their 55-64 year old counterparts.

Our survey echos the findings from Gynaecological Cancer Awareness Month (GCAM) 2014 led by The Eve Appeal.

Among the top reasons for young women avoiding going to the doctor were being scared of being intimately examined (48%), being embarrassed to talk about sexual health issues (44%) and not knowing what words to use (26%) – with two thirds (66%) saying they’d be embarrassed to say the word ‘vagina’. The embarrassment factor drops considerably as we get older, with just one in 10 (11%) women aged 65 or over saying they’d be shy saying ‘vagina’ to a healthcare professional.

Other words to cause considerable embarrassment among the young - but not so much among older women – include ‘orgasm’ (64% and 21% respectively), ‘labia’ (60% and 14% respectively),  and ‘discharge’ (56% and 5% respectively).

Instead of seeking medical help, more than half of younger women (57%) say 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 say 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.

One in six have made appointments only to cancel them because they were too embarrassed to discuss gynaecological issues. A further one in five (18%) have completely ignored a sexual health issue.

Katherine Taylor, Acting Chief Executive at Ovarian Cancer Action, said: “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. 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. These are, persistent bloating, peeing more often, persistent tummy pain and feeling full more quickly.”

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

When asked to identify a symptom of ovarian cancer more than a third (38%) of young women couldn’t name any.  Only one in 10 (11%) knew that bloating could be an indication and one in five (21%) identified tummy pain as being a sign. None of the 1000 participants identified the need to pee more frequently or feeling full more quickly as a symptom of ovarian cancer. Only one in ten (11%) young women said knowing their family history would encourage them to seek medical advice, despite 20% of ovarian cancers being a result of a genetic predisposition.

Ellie Cohen, 23, from London said: “I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer when I was just 19 and it turned my 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.

“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.”

To find out more visit the Ovarian Cancer Action young women’s hub at http://ovarian.org.uk/about-ovarian-cancer/younger-women

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For more information please contact Jess Champion on 07917 428474 or email jess@ovarian.org.uk

 

Notes to Editors:

The research was conducted by Mortar London in April 2015; among 1,000 UK adult women aged 18+ - to be representative of the UK population. The margin of error which measures sampling variability—is +/- 5% and the results have been statistically weighted according to the most current age and regional data.

Ovarian Cancer: The facts

It is the most deadly gynaecological cancer and currently the fifth most common cancer among women.
There are 7000 new diagnoses each year in the UK
The UK has one of the lowest survival rates in Western Europe, with a woman dying from ovarian cancer every two hours;
That amounts to 4,300 deaths each year

Ovarian Cancer: The symptoms

  • Persistent stomach pain
  • Persistent bloating or increased stomach size
  • Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
  • Needing to urinate more frequently

The key features of the symptoms of ovarian cancer are:

  • Their persistency - they don’t go away
  • Their frequency - they occur most days
  • The symptoms are new - they started in the last 12 months
  • The symptoms are unusual - they are not normal for you

Ovarian Cancer Action is the UK’s leading ovarian cancer charity, dedicated to improving survival rates for women with ovarian cancer.  It funds innovative research into the disease at the Ovarian Cancer Action Research Centre; raises awareness of the symptoms with national awareness campaigns aimed at women and healthcare workers; and gives a voice to those affected by it, acting as an advocate with policymakers, healthcare professionals and scientists.

The Ovarian Cancer Action Research Centre is dedicated to defeating ovarian cancer. Its research is focused on developing a better understanding of the disease in order to prevent, diagnose earlier and more accurately, treat more completely and improve length and quality of life of those with the disease.