Women’s Health: Real issues right now

Written by Lucy Scannell - Pharmacist

In this article I would like to discuss three major issues facing women today:

  1. Ovarian Cancer

  2. Breast Cancer

  3. Menopause


Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer is a disease where some of the cells in one or both ovaries start to grow abnormally and develop into cancer. Predominantly it affects women over 50 who have stopped menstruating. Women who have not had children, are unable to have children, have never used oral contraceptives or have had children over the age of 30, may be slightly more at risk.

This might come as a shock but here are some statistics recently released;

  • Annually 1,400 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer
  • 1,000 women will lose their battle with the disease each year
  • 1 in 75 women will develop ovarian cancer before the age of 85
  • Survival rates for women diagnosed with ovarian cancer are 43%

It can be difficult to diagnose ovarian cancer because the symptoms are ones that many women will have from time to time and are often symptoms of less serious / more common health problems. However we do know lifestyle factors such as smoking tobacco, being overweight or eating a high fat diet can contribute.

But we do know that ovarian cancer is NOT a silent disease. Women who are diagnosed with ovarian cancer report four types of symptoms most frequently:

  • Abdominal or pelvic pain
  • Increased abdominal size or persistent abdominal bloating
  • Needing to urinate often or urgently
  • Feeling full after eating a small amount

If you start to have any of these new symptoms and you have experienced them multiple times during a 4-week period, consult your GP. If it becomes more severe see your GP without delay.

Other symptoms to be aware of

  • Changes in bowel habits
  • Unexplained weight gain or weight loss
  • Bleeding in-between periods or after menopause
  • Back pain
  • Indigestion or nausea
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Pain during intercourse

It is important to remember that most women with these symptoms will not have ovarian cancer but never take it for granted. It is better to be safe than sorry.

Breast Cancer

As simple as it sounds, by knowing what your breasts look and feel like, and checking them regularly, you can help you detect when something’s wrong. It is imperative to know what your breasts feel like normally, pre and post menstrual cycle and ensuring if you are over 50 you attend regular breast screenings with your medical practitioner.

Here are some of the changes to look for;

  • Changes to the outline or shape of the breast, especially those caused by arm movements or by lifting the breast
  • Changes in the look or feel of the skin, such as puckering or dimpling
  • Discomfort or pain in one breast that is unusual, particularly if it is new and persistent
  • Lumps, thickening or bumpy areas in one breast or armpit, which differs from the same part of the other breast and armpit
  • Nipple discharge that’s new for you and not milky
  • Bleeding from the nipple
  • Moist or red areas on the nipple that don’t heal easily
  • Change in nipple position
  • Rash on or around the nipple.

Detecting cancer early can mean that treatment is more effective. Not all changes are a sign of breast cancer. Some WOMEN have cysts or thickening of the breast tissue, which is normal.


If you notice any of these changes, see your DOCTOR or specialist as soon as possible.


Menopause is a time most women fear but to allay these fears for “the change” every woman needs to be armed with all the relevant information.

Signs of menopause

  • Periods may become lighter or heavier during the start of menopause
  • Periods may become more erratic before eventually stopping completely

When a woman hasn’t had a period for 12 months, she is considered to have been through menopause. There is a common misconception that you can’t get pregnant during menopause but it is still possible. It is important to keep using contraception up to one year after your last period if you are over 50, or two years if you are under 50.

Signs and Symptoms

The most common symptom of Menopause is hot flushes but others include;

  • Night sweats
  • Aches, pains and itching sensations under the skin
  • Irritability
  • Lack of self-esteem
  • Reduced sex drive (libido)
  • Sleeping difficulty and tiredness
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Forgetfulness

Decrease in female hormones after menopause may lead to:

  • Thinning of the bones (osteoporosis) and an increased risk of fractures
  • An increase in the risk of heart attack and heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke.

Treatment Options

As with all medical conditions it is advisable to consult your doctor for an accurate diagnosis and treatment. Bone loss and osteoporosis are natural features of ageing, but declining oestrogen accelerates the process in post-menopausal women.

Things you can do

  • Quitting smoking and moderating alcohol consumption and caffeine
  • Do regular exercise including weight-bearing and strength-training activities
  • Have a healthy and varied diet with plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables and whole grains
  • Eat calcium-rich foods (milk, yoghurt, tofu)
  • Vitamin D is important and supplements are available in Community Pharmacy
  • Black cohosh may be helpful for treating symptoms of hot flashes
  • St John’s Wort may be useful for treating the mood swings and mild depression
  • Always talk to your Doctor as any new supplements have potential side effects and may affect your prescription medication

At Community Pharmacy we offer cholesterol checks and bone density tests and we would be delighted to assist you with any queries or advice you may have.

Information sourced from health direct Australia and Ovarian Cancer Australia

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