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Home » Women's healthcare » Delivering better quality of life during and after gynaecological cancer

Donal Brennan

UCD Professor of Gynaecological Oncology

Women are urged to be aware of the subtle signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer and treatment side effects, so they can seek medical advice at the earliest opportunity.

The Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) aims to improve overall health and wellbeing for women following a cancer diagnosis by providing evidence-based survivorship services.

It also works to raise awareness of symptoms and deliver trials to help people after treatment.

Cancer treatment side effects

Donal Brennan, Professor of Gynaecological Oncology at University College Dublin, says: “When a woman finishes her cancer treatment, she will have side effects and complications, many of which are not fully addressed because the major focus is on treating the cancer.”

We do not want to make people worry every time they feel bloated, but if they are persistent for three or more weeks.

Since its launch in 2020, WHI — with centres in Dublin, Cork and Galway — has conducted the ‘menopause after cancer study,’ which found that a new management algorithm for people who cannot have hormone replacement therapy after cancer treatment, appears to be effective.

Meanwhile, a ‘sleep after cancer study’ will examine the value of cognitive behavioural therapies after cancer, while the COMFORT trial will focus on psychological interventions to help with stress and anxiety.

Warning signs and symptoms

To address the information gap, WHI established with content on gynaecological cancers (ovarian, uterine, cervix, vaginal and vulval) and information for people with a genetic disposition to a gynaecological cancer (Lynch syndrome and carrying a BRCA mutation).

Professor Brennan, who is the WHI lead in Dublin, says as the symptoms of ovarian cancer can be subtle, WHI uses the BEAT acronym for spotting warning signs: B (Bloating); E (feeling full early after Eating); A (Abdominal or pelvic pain); and T for Toilet and any changes, particularly in urinary frequency.

As there is no screening test, anyone with a family history of ovarian cancer should be particularly aware of the symptoms.

Professor Brennan concludes: “These symptoms are common, and we do not want to make people worry every time they feel bloated, but if they are persistent for three or more weeks, we ask that women see their GP and have an ultrasound scan to assess if there are any problems with their ovaries.”

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