Straight-talking on all things gynae…

The Eve Appeal leads a national campaign to address the stigma and taboos that stop women talking about gynaecological cancers, their signs and symptoms. Our ambition is to stop these cancers before they start and to do this we need to encourage women to know their bodies and know about all 5 gynae cancers.

Straight-talking is vital. Using the proper anatomical terms around gynaecological health, talking openly about common symptoms like changes to periods and bleeding and not using stigmatising or silly terms to describe parts of the female body are really important steps towards better awareness and ultimately early diagnosis.

Every year, we undertake research amongst women aged 16 – 65 as part of our Gynaecological Cancer Awareness Month campaign in September. Lots of our partners (supporters, clinicians, other charities, corporate supporters, women’s networks) help us spread this important message: women should know their own bodies, be able to talk without embarrassment about gynae signs and symptoms, and above all, call a vagina a vagina (and not a foofoo, a flower, a ladypart…….).

That is why, back in September of 2014 we decided to call for women across the UK to ensure that ‘vagina’ was part of their vocabulary; after a survey showed young women were less educated than their elder counterparts about the symptoms and issues around gynaecological cancers; and worryingly, more embarrassed to discuss them than older women.

Perhaps most shockingly, it’s the language of gynaecological health that proved to be a major barrier to young women opening up about concerns around gynaecological cancers, with 65% saying they have a problem using the words vagina or vulva, and nearly 40% of 16-25 year olds resorting to using code names such as ‘lady parts’ or ‘women’s bits’ to discuss gynaecological health.

This is simply something we want to stop. We need women to call things by their proper names and know what these gynae organs do.

It was also apparent that a lack of basic anatomical knowledge was also an issue, with women in the younger age groups struggling to correctly identify the five areas that can be affected by gynaecological cancer (womb, cervix, ovaries, vagina and vulva) on a simple diagram – just half of women aged 26-35 were able to label the vagina accurately.

This set alarm bells ringing amongst us at The Eve Appeal and certainly got a lot of people talking, including the media who extensively covered the story from national newspapers such as The Daily Telegraph and The Daily Mail to the likes of Cosmopolitan.

But we weren’t about to keep quiet about gynaecological issues, as we pushed awareness through the roof for Cervical Screening Awareness Week and Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month in the early stages of 2015. We even held tea parties with valued supporters, MPs and celebrity supporters at the House of Commons all in the name of raising awareness of ovarian cancer which included Denise Welch pledging her support to the campaign in the media – whilst our amazing supporters also made Time for Tea throughout the whole of March!

We wanted to keep the heat up on gynaecological cancer awareness raising  in September for Gynaecological Cancer Awareness Month 2015 – we decided it was time to encourage women to open about gynaecological health and have frank and honest conversations with close family, friends and perhaps most importantly, healthcare professionals.

The campaign focused on the fact that there is an apparent lack of knowledge around the signs and symptoms of gynaecological cancers, leading to inaccurate assumptions about the links between sex and cancer; and a sense of a greater stigma around gynaecological cancers than other forms of the disease. Our work also worryingly highlighted the fact that women are not addressing on-going gynaecological health issues due to misconceptions about who is at risk; often dismissing these signs and symptoms of just a natural progression due to their age. Our CEO, Athena Lamnissos felt so passionate about the issue that she blogged about why it was Time to Open Up for Gynaecological Cancer Awareness Month and why women everywhere should talk about vaginas.

We gained wide-spread media coverage for our campaign about opening up – putting a spotlight on the fact that embarrassment and lack of knowledge was literally putting women’s lives in danger – a message which struck a chord amongst many. The likes of The Guardian and The Independent carried articles from our media spokespeople and case studies who told their own personal accounts of a gynae-cancer diagnosis to appearing on the likes of Lorraine, London Live and Sky News.

This set us on our way to think how best we can continue our mantra of straight-talking about vaginas, and making sure women were not afraid to use the correct anatomical terms for reproductive body parts – and we will continue the fight against, often unhelpful euphemisms – as we encourage women to #KnowYourBody and continue to raise awareness of these women-only cancers.