Half of healthcare professionals think poor knowledge and embarrassment puts women’s lives at risk02/05/2019

  • 47% of medical professionals think women’s lack of female anatomy knowledge could lead to delayed diagnosis of conditions like womb cancer.
  • Embarrassment about a physical examination is cited by healthcare professionals as a key factor (51%), followed by embarrassment about how their body looks (39%) and embarrassment talking about gynae issues (37%).
  • Charity launches GET LIPPY campaign with Ministerial and celebrity support as well as practical tips to help improve the national gynae conversation.

This week the Eve Appeal, the UK’s leading gynaecological cancer charity, launched new YouGov research showing that poor quality, ‘embarrassing’ conversations between healthcare professionals and patients is leading to delayed diagnosis.

New research shows that 88% of medical professionals think that helping patients to express their thoughts or clearly describe their symptoms, results in better care. Yet women often don’t have the right language to talk about their bodies with doctors and can be too embarrassed during consultations.

The new data shows that the UK urgently needs to change the way we address women’s gynaecological health. Of the healthcare professionals surveyed, nearly half (47%) agree women not knowing the correct terminology for their reproductive anatomy could lead to delayed diagnosis of a gynaecological cancer.

In response, The Eve Appeal is launching a national ‘Get Lippy’ campaign this week (May 1 2019) to provide women with the right information and the confidence to talk clearly about their anatomy and signs and symptoms, in order to better diagnose key health concerns, including the five gynaecological cancers.

The National Cancer Diagnosis Audit 2017 showed that 28% of avoidable delays in cancer diagnosis occur in primary care, with 11.9% being the result of the reporting of vague symptoms. The Eve Appeal are working to make every conversation between a patient and a healthcare professional count and have produced some Top Tips for Talking Gynae to improve an open and informed conversation.

Athena Lamnisos, Chief Executive of The Eve Appeal, says: “Doctors have on average 10 minutes with a patient. We want to make sure those minutes are well used to diagnose cancer at the earliest stage. Women should feel comfortable to talk about their health and confident to have a conversation with their doctor. To do this, we need to make sure women have the information and confidence they need to have a conversation about their symptoms. That’s what GET LIPPY is here to do: get those conversations going and make them count.”

Jackie Doyle-Price, Health Minister and MP for Thurrock, says: “Awareness of the five gynaecological cancers is very low but, together, they are the fourth most common cancers affecting women, with 58 women receiving a diagnosis each day. Research the Eve Appeal is doing into early detection and prevention is incredibly important but it can only be effective if women feel comfortable talking with their medical professional. It’s vital we do something about this culture of stigma now and we help women feel comfortable in that situation and can identify their anatomy

Dr Ellie Cannon, NHS GP and media doctor, says: “As a GP I want to get patients the help they need. Some gynaecological symptoms can be vague and hard to describe and it’s easy to see why some might be embarrassing to talk about. But we want to get the most out of the time we have with a patient in primary care. So Top Tips for Talking Gynae will really help. Come on everyone, get clued up on the right vocabulary to explain your problem. A lump in your vagina is very different to a lump on your vulva – make sure you can explain the difference.”

Dr Alison Wright, Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, and Vice President at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said: “Women and girls should feel comfortable to speak up about their health without fear of shame or embarrassment. The research by The Eve Appeal shows the impact this culture has on women’s knowledge of their bodies. Women often feel unable to speak openly, even to medical staff, about gynae issues. We must improve the way we talk about our bodies today to truly effect change.”

Lydia Brain, diagnosed with womb cancer at 24: “It took nearly three years from when my symptoms started to be diagnosed with womb cancer. Between my first scan and my diagnosis, my tumour had multiplied and I went into treatment in a much worse position than I would have if there hadn’t been any delays in my diagnosis. Neither I, nor the GPs I saw over the years, joined the dots with my symptoms. If I’d had more awareness of what my symptoms might mean and how serious they could be, if I’d had more meaningful conversations with my GP and been taken more seriously when I did, these delays could have been avoided.”