Abnormal bleeding as a symptom of gynae cancers | Know Your Normal

Abnormal bleeding as a symptom of gynae cancers

Confident women standing in a corner Confident women standing in a corner

Only a third of women are aware of the types of abnormal bleeding that could be a sign of cancer

Know Your Normal is a joint campaign by Always, Always Discreet, Tesco and gynaecological cancer charity, The Eve Appeal, to encourage women to know their normal and be aware that they need to get abnormal bleeding checked.

Abnormal vaginal bleeding is a red flag symptom of three out of the five gynaecological cancers - womb, cervical and vaginal. Yet only 1/3 of women are aware of all the types of abnormal bleeding that could be a sign of cancer. We need you to Know Your Normal, and get abnormal bleeding checked.

In 2020, 80% of women surveyed by The Eve Appeal (Freeda Media) said they would not visit a doctor if they experienced any unexpected vaginal bleeding - a red flag symptom of three out of the five gynae cancers, which together affect over 12,600 women and people with gynae organs a year.

Always, Always Discreet, Tesco and The Eve Appeal are partnering to change this! We are spreading the message - Know Your Normal - to raise awareness and encourage women and people with gynae organs to get abnormal bleeding checked. QR codes at the point of sale for Always and Always Discreet products in Tesco will direct people to trusted, expert information from The Eve Appeal on abnormal bleeding, tips for tracking your periods and information on gynaecological cancers. And for each Always and Always Discreet pack sold in Tesco*, a donation will be made to support The Eve Appeal in its mission of making gynaecological cancers diseases of the past.

Head to The Eve Appeal’s website for more information on abnormal vaginal bleeding & how to spot when something’s not right!

Women’s Stories

Vijaya (V) - cervical cancer, 31, heavy and painful periods:

Portrait of Vijaya dressed in black

I was diagnosed with cervical cancer at age 31 on day 6 of the pandemic. It was a shocking diagnosis given that I had clear cervical screening (smear tests) and no instantly recognisable symptoms. I had forced the doctor to refer me to a specialist though as my period pains were soul destroying. At the time, they were extremely heavy, never on time and sometimes lasting up to ten days.

To me, this was not normal. It didn’t make sense to me compared to close pals who would sometimes boast that they didn’t even need to wear a tampon.

Luckily for me, listening to my body meant that I was diagnosed with stage 1 cervical cancer, it was treatable, I didn’t have to have any chemotherapy and after two small procedures, I got the all-clear just three months later. My advice to anyone reading this is know the red flags and talk about them loudly and proudly with anyone and everyone. Normalising these conversations is a matter of life and death, so let’s keep banging the drum.

Vijaya VideoVijaya Video

Sandra - 48, womb cancer, bleeding between periods/perimenopausal age:

Portrait of Sandra on a windy beach

I was 47 when I started to have bleeding about one week after every period, and even with my nursing background, I always managed to explain it away, usually as residual blood. It wasn’t until I developed pain over my left ovary that I went to see my GP. A week later I got a call that changed my life. The ultrasound had picked up a complex cyst on my ovary and a polyp in my womb.

Two weeks after surgery to remove both ovaries due to the cysts as well as the polyp I was back at the hospital to get my results. I remember feeling numb and in shock as my consultant explained that the ovaries were fine but the polyp had come back with cancer cells. The tiny polyp that I had given no importance to had been womb cancer.

To be honest, if it had not been for the pain from the ovarian cyst, I am not sure how long I would have left it before I would have got the bleeding investigated.

I consider myself extremely lucky that my cancer was caught so early and would urge everyone to really understand their bodies and know what their normal is as early detection can improve prognosis as well as offer more treatment options. Please don’t be afraid to get any symptoms checked out early!

Mandy - 50, womb cancer, post-menopausal bleeding:

Portrait of Mandy smiling

I was attending a work event in January 2018 and had a particularly heavy bleed (luckily, I was dressed in black). As I took my pants off, I simply had to put them in the shower.

Previous to that I hadn’t had a period since I was 50, so I did think it was a bit peculiar – but just put it down to the fact that ‘these things happen’. I’d mentioned the bleed to my Mum and she suggested going to the GP, in fact she kept nattering at me but I just put it off due to the menopause – I simply didn’t think anything of it.

I visited my GP, and by this time it’s March and he suggested this wasn’t normal for me and my bloods were taken the following day. My bloods came back clear but I was referred for a scan the following week, where they also took a biopsy. On the 12 April, when I was just 54, I was invited back to see my Consultant and asked to sit down. To my horror they told me that they’d found what they thought were the early stages of womb cancer. I honestly thought they’d got the wrong person, I was in complete and utter shock. I’m now more aware of the signs, and as women we can’t ignore these symptoms – I had one bleed, just one.

Mandy VideoMandy Video

Laura - 38, abnormal bleeding, vaginal cancer

Portrait of Laura outdoors

It all started with abnormal bleeding, my periods were always regular every month, so I knew that the bleeding wasn’t normal for me. About three days after my period the bleeding would come back but it was very light, it was just a pink discharge It was going on for about two months before I started thinking ‘It’s been going on long enough, I need to get myself to the doctor now and get it sorted’.

I had an appointment with a nurse on the 11th of January, she said she could see where the bleeding was coming from and that there was something on the side of my cervix, about the size of a 5p. She was amazing and put me straight onto a two-week referral.

I was so anxious, I just know myself and my body, and something wasn’t right. Then at the end of January last year, I got the call from the gynaecologist’s reception ‘Can you come in because the doctor wants to see you? And bring someone with you’. We just knew from then that it was cancer. She said the biopsies had come back as vaginal cancer. We hadn’t even heard of vaginal cancer before. My follow-up scan in October showed that I was all clear! I would urge anyone reading this to not leave any symptoms they are worried about, everything not normal must get investigated. You never think it is going to be you, but it could be anyone. I am so young to get vaginal cancer, it’s really rare under 40 and I was 38 when I was diagnosed, so it happens. So it is always worth getting checked, just in case.

Abnormal Bleeding tips

There are four main types of abnormal bleeding:

  • Bleeding in between periods
  • Bleeding after sex
  • Bleeding after the menopause
  • Bleeding that is much heavier or more painful than what is normal for you

How to get to Know Your Normal:

  • If you have periods, keep a note of them so you can see what your regular/normal period patterns look like.
  • If you don’t have periods, but any other vaginal bleeding, do track that too
  • Regularly check back over your last few entries so that you can spot and report any changes.

What to track and look out for:

1. Don’t disregard very heavy and/or very painful periods vs. what is normal for you

What counts as a heavy period? Everyone is different and will have a different period, losing different amounts of blood, but generally speaking:

  • Heavy bleeding for 7 days or more
  • Pain/heavy flow that disrupts your daily activities
  • If you need to change your tampon/pad every hour or so

2. Discharge

Discharge is a perfectly normal part of having a healthy vagina and is how the vagina cleans itself. The amount of discharge we get varies throughout our monthly cycle and is normally anything from a clear colour to a creamy/light yellow. If you experience any pink, red or brown discharge, also called ‘bloody discharge’ note it down.

3. Surely all bloody discharge is an abnormal bleed?

Not necessarily. Some people get a bit of bloody discharge/light bleeding/spotting in between their periods. This can also be referred to as ‘ovulation bleeding’. However, if this starts to happen and isn’t part of what you would consider ‘your normal’, then do speak to your doctor.

4. It is ‘normal’ to have ‘abnormal bleeding’ through the menopause (peri-menopausal)

Going through the menopause for most people means a few years of irregular/different bleeding patterns. This is due to the ovaries beginning to essentially ‘shut down’ and hormones going (to put it bluntly) haywire. It’s normal to have shorter/longer/irregular periods as this process happens.

5. There’s no such thing as a post-menopausal period

Once you haven’t had a period for 12 months or more, i.e. gone through the menopause, any bleeding from the vagina is not ‘one last period’, it’s classed as an abnormal bleed. Note it down, when it occurred, and is it quite fresh-looking blood?

6. Bleeding after sex is more common than people might think (if pre-menopausal)

Again, most of the time it isn’t something to worry about. Like cervical ectropion for example, which is a non-serious condition caused by hormonal fluctuations, but do still note it down if it’s something you experience.

7. If you bleed during/after sex, also note down whether or not you are in pain

Sex isn’t supposed to be painful, and whilst something like cervical ectropion can also cause pelvic pain/pain during sex, it is still always worth investigating.

Want more tips? Head to The Eve Appeal’s website!

*Always Discreet and Always will donate 5p to The Eve Appeal (Reg. Charity n. 1091708) per pack of Always Discreet Pads and Always Ultra Mega Packs purchased in Tesco between 16/06/2021 – 27/07/2021.

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. 2021 survey: Total sample size was 2082 adults, fieldwork was undertaken between 18th - 19th May. 2020 survey: Total sample size was 2095 adults, fieldwork was undertaken between 15th - 16th April. The surveys were carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

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