Ask an expert about women's cancers 

This one hour web took place at:
12.30 - 1.30pm on Wednesday 2 July 2014.

Our web chat on women’s cancers was for anyone who had a question about ovarian or cervical cancer.  Whether it’s what abnormal smear tests mean, to the diagnostic tests that are available, to treatment options or the latest research breakthroughs - whatever your question, our expert was available to answer it.

Miss Adeola Olaitan is a consultant gynaecologist, specialising in the treatment of all gynaecological cancers at University College Hospital, which is the specialist treatment centre for patients living in north central London.  Miss Olaitan has published a wide range of papers on gynaecological cancer and lists her special interest as the quality of life in young women after treatment for cancer. She is also a spokesperson for the NHS cervical screening programme and has made several media appearances as well as writing for general newspapers and journals.

Read a transcript below.

12:02 UCLH: 
Good afternoon and welcome to our web chat. We will begin at 12.30pm but you can submit your questions now in preparation for the chat. Please note: your questions will not appear in the main chat window until after 12.30pm.

Miss Adeola Olaitan, consultant gynaecologist will be joining us to take your questions on ‘women’s cancers’ and will try to answer as many questions as possible within the hour long web chat.
12:31 Miss Adeola Olaitan: 
Welcome to our web chat on the subject of women’s cancers. My name is Miss Adeola Olaitan, consultant gynaecologist at UCLH and I am ready and waiting to take your questions.
12:32 [Comment From SallySally: ] 
What do you think of the HPV vaccine for 13 year olds? My daughter has been offered it, I don't know enough about it and worry about giving her mixed messages about safe sex etc etc
12:34 Miss Adeola Olaitan: 
Hi Sally
Thank you for your question. Infection with the high risk human papilloma virus (HPV), increases the risk of cervical cancer. Vaccination against this virus significantly reduces the risk of cervical cancer. The virus is transmitted through intimate contact or sexual intercourse. Vaccination is most effective before girls have been exposed to the risk and that is why it is offered to 13 year olds. It is a safe and effective vaccination and I would recommend it.
12:35 [Comment From snehsneh: ] 
My question is this: I understand that research has shown the usefulness of DNA tagged chemotherapy. Is this now available to any cancer patient? How do you go about requesting this if/when it is recommended you have chemotherapy?
12:35 Miss Adeola Olaitan: 
Hi Sneh
Thank you for your question. This is outside my area of expertise but I believe that DNA-tagged chemotherapy is not currently available for treatment of ovarian cancer outside a research setting
12:39 [Comment From ReneeRenee: ] 
I am 83 years old and would like to know the prevalence of these cancers at my age and what one should look for, please?
12:39 Miss Adeola Olaitan: 
Hi Renee
There are five main gynaecological cancers. The commonest in this country is womb cancer, followed by ovarian, then cervix, vulva and vaginal which is very rare. Womb or endometrial cancer is commonest after the menopause and the commonest symptom is bleeding after the menopause. Ovarian cancer occurs most common in women over the age of 55. It is difficult to detect as it does not have specific symptoms. However you should report any feeling of abdominal bloating, discomfort, change in bowel habit or having to pee often to your GP. Cervical cancer is the most common cancer in women under 35 but has another age peak in women in their 80s. The symptoms of this are abnormal bleeding, particularly after sex or an offensive discharge. Vulval cancer is also common in older women and can present with itching and discomfort I the skin on the outside of the genitalia. This is not an exhaustive answer and if you have any concerns that you have symptoms that may suggest a gynaecological cancer, please see your GP.
12:45 [Comment From AmyAmy: ] 
I'm in my early 40s and have never had a smear test. Is it necessary for someone who hasn't had sex? No-one seems to agree and I'm not that keen on having a smear if it's safe not to.
12:45 Miss Adeola Olaitan: 
Hi Amy
Most cervical cancers are caused by the high risk human papilloma virus which is sexually transmitted. If you have never had sex, the risk is very low but that does not equate to no risk. Cervical smears are available to you if you wish but if you choose not have a test, that is equally valid.
12:45 [Comment From SueSue: ] 
I have been told I have abnormal smear test results and am being referred to hospital. I am petrified I have cancer. What will happen next?
12:46 Miss Adeola Olaitan: 
Hi Sue
There is no need to be petrified. The purpose to cervical screening is to protect you against cervical cancer. This is because there can be changes in the cervix which are not cancer, but if not detected, can develop into cancer over several years. These changes cause no symptoms and if you do not go for screening, they would not be detected. An abnormal smear does not indicate cancer but rather it means that there may be pre-cancer changes on the cervix that are fully treatable. The specialist in the hospital will examine your cervix and advise you if treatment, which is a simple outpatient procedure, is required.
12:49 [Comment From TahliaTahlia: ] 
I have abnormal smear test result - will I definitely have HPV? I am worried about what my new husband will think about my sexual past...
12:50 [Comment From SueSue: ] 
Thanks for your reassuring reply
12:50 Miss Adeola Olaitan: 
Hi Tahlia
Abnormal smears are caused by infection with the high risk human papilloma virus (HPV). This is an extremely common virus and almost everyone who has ever had sex would have been exposed to it. It is said to be as common as catching a cold. Most people get rid of it immediately with their immune system. In a small proportion, the virus infection persists and this is what causes abnormal smears. It is important to understand that having HPV is no reflection on your sexual past and it is quite likely that your husband has been exposed to HPV in the past himself.
12:51 Miss Adeola Olaitan: 
You are welcome Sue
12:53 [Comment From JEJE: ] 
I had an abnormal smear with high grade CIN3 last year and had a colposcopy for treatment, with a cone biopsy. I found the whole experience very painful and bled and had pain for 8 weeks following. The results came back clear but following my latest 6 month smear I have shown to have high risk hpv so have had a further colposcopy and 2 punch biopsies taken. I bleed after intercourse, between periods and have terrible mood swings. I also experience a lot of pain during periods if I pass clots. Recent blood tests also showed a higher level than normal calcium reading which appears to be linked. I am obviously now very concerned about the outcome of my recent colposcopy. What should i expect next? Thank you x
12:53 Miss Adeola Olaitan: 
I am sorry you found your experience so unpleasant. It is not unusual to still have HPV infection after treatment for CIN3 & it is just an indication that you need to be monitored. Your mood swings and period problems are unlikely to be related to your cervical problems and I suggest you discuss these with your GP.
12:56 [Comment From BryonyBryony: ] 
What's the link between abnormal cells and pregnancy? I had some and after regular checks they are now they're gone - could they come back if I get pregnant again?
12:56 Miss Adeola Olaitan: 
Hi Bryony
There is no link between pregnancy and abnormal cells and it is purely coincidental that your abnormal cells were found in pregnancy. If you have been given all clear, then no reason not to get pregnant again. Pregnancy will not make the abnormality return.
12:56 [Comment From JEJE: ] 
Thank you x
12:56 Miss Adeola Olaitan: 
You are welcome JE
1:00 [Comment From debradebra: ] 
I have been treated for cancer of the cervix with radiotherapy and chemo and brachytherapy. This was 4 years ago. How will i know if it comes back as the hospital oncologist advised i do not have smears. I had the tumour shrunk but no operations to remove anything. I go back for check ups when they have a quick look and thats it. Is there no other way as this is my second time.
1:00 Miss Adeola Olaitan: 
Hi Debra
Chemotherapy and radiotherapy offer very good treatment for cervical cancer. There is no need to have surgery after this treatment as it is designed to cure the cancer. Smear tests are not useful after radiotherapy as the changes caused by radiotherapy make it difficult to interpret. The hospital check-ups are a good way to monitor you. Your doctor will send you for scans if he/she has any concerns. It sounds like you have had a good response to treatment and this is encouraging
1:04 [Comment From GuestGuest: ] 
What can I do to prevent ovarian/cervical cancer? What are the symptoms? I've had lots of problems- endometriosis, fibroids etc and lots of bleeding and I really worry I might miss something ominous
1:04 Miss Adeola Olaitan: 
Hi Guest
The best way to prevent cervical cancer is to go for regular smears. Avoiding smoking will also protect you. Eating a healthy balanced diet and exercise helps protect against most cancers. Being on the combined oral contraceptive pill, having children and breast feeding protects against ovarian cancer. I assume you are under the care of a gynaecologist for your fibroids and endometriosis and they will make sure you have appropriate tests to protect you.
1:04 [Comment From ReneeRenee: ] 
Thank you so much for your very comprehensive reply to my octogenarian question. I think I shall visit my GP
1:05 Miss Adeola Olaitan: 
You are welcome Renee
1:06 [Comment From debradebra: ] 
Thank you
1:06 Miss Adeola Olaitan: 
You are welcome Debra
1:07 [Comment From SnehSneh: ] 
I have ovarian cancer- had it for about 5 years now. Is it true that if ovarian cancer comes back after the first treatment, you are unlikely to be free from it?
1:09 Miss Adeola Olaitan: 
Hi Sneh
Ovarian cancer can be treated again if it recurs although it may be harder to cure. It is difficult to comment specifically without knowing the details of your case but treating again is always an option.
1:09 [Comment From AmyAmy: ] 
1:09 Miss Adeola Olaitan: 
You are welcome Amy
1:11 [Comment From GuestGuest: ] 
Hello Miss Olaitan, I was told I have PCOS when I was 19 years old. I have not been scanned since and my GP says there is no need to unless I wish to seek fertility treatment. My mother has had a tumour and a full hystorectoomy years ago. Could I be at risk? Should I push for a new scan?
1:11 Miss Adeola Olaitan: 
Hi Guest.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome can cause irregular periods, weight gain and abnormal hair growth. Is should be monitored and if appropriate, treated. You should go back and discuss this with your GP, particularly in view of your family history.
1:12 [Comment From SnehSneh: ] 
I appreciate your replies
1:12 Miss Adeola Olaitan: 
You are very welcome Sneh
1:16 [Comment From ChrissieChrissie: ] 
Is there a link between obesity and gynaecological cancer?
1:18 Miss Adeola Olaitan: 
Hi Chrissie
Obesity (being significantly overweight) can increase the risk of endometrial cancer (cancer of the womb lining). This is because one of the female hormones (oestrogen) is made in the body fat and exposure to too much oestrogen, particularly after the menopause can make women more likely to develop cancer of the womb. If you are concerned about your weight you should see your GP to discuss how to maintain a healthy lifestyle
1:18 [Comment From GuestGuest: ] 
Thank you for anwering my PCOS question.
1:18 Miss Adeola Olaitan: 
You are welcome, Guest
1:27 Miss Adeola Olaitan: 
Here are some links you may find useful:

Macmillan Cancer Support -

Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust: Cervical Cancer -

The Eve Appeal - Womens Cancer Charity -

Ovacome :: the ovarian cancer support charity -

Target Ovarian Cancer: Ovarian cancer charity -

NHS Cervical Screening Programme (NHSCSP) -

Gynaecological oncology at UCLH -

Cancer - NHS Choices -
1:28 [Comment From GuestGuest: ] 
Why after a certain age do you need smear tests every five years rather than every three years?
1:29 Miss Adeola Olaitan: 
Hi Guest
If you have had normal smears every three years until the age of 50, then your risk is a lot lower and five yearly smears are sufficient to protect you.
1:30 Miss Adeola Olaitan: 
Thank you for joining us today in our live web chat. We hope you found the chat useful and some of your questions have been answered.

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