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When early signs of cervical cancer mimic menopause
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When early signs of cervical cancer mimic menopause

Irregularities in the menstrual cycle must not be ignored, stress doctors. Issues such as irregular bleeding or blood stains between periods could be a sign of cervical cancer

The early signs of cervical cancer can mimic symptoms of menopause

The early signs of cervical cancer can often be confused with menopausal symptoms. Such was the case of N Santhi from Tiruchirappalli. At the age of 45, she experienced continuous bleeding. When it lasted longer than a week, she visited a doctor. Initially, it was believed to be a sign of menopause and she was put on medication. Santhi, now 54, recalls that as the medicine was of little help, the doctor suggested screening tests and a biopsy revealed she had cervical cancer.

“The word cancer shattered me,” she told Happiest Health. “I was worried for my young children, especially my younger son, who has autism — he was just 10 years old. I knew I needed to fight and survive for them.”

Cervical cancer: Understanding the basics

Cervical cancer, which arises in the neck of the womb, is the fourth most common type of cancer seen among women across the globe. Dr Meera Raghavan, obstetrics and gynecology, Apollo Spectra Hospital, Chennai, shares, “About 85% of cervical cancers are caused by various strains of human papillomavirus (HPV). To prevent and reduce the risk of developing cervical cancer, it is crucial to take the HPV vaccine and have regular screening tests such as pap smear.” 

Early signs of cervical cancer

Cervical cancer can affect women of any age. However, many do not realize that they have this condition. The signs become increasingly apparent as the cancer spreads, and it’s crucial to know them to detect and treat the condition early, says Dr Raghavan. She adds, “Early signs such as abnormal periods, unusual bleeding and heavier or longer periods can mimic the signs of menopause in older women. Hence, it’s crucial to look out for these signs and bring them to the attention of your medical practitioner.”

Some early signs of cervical cancer include:

  • bleeding after intercourse
  • pelvic pain or pain during intercourse
  • persistent white discharge with a strong odor
  • blood stains or discharge in between periods
  • abnormal period
  • abnormal bleeding or heavier or longer periods
  • postmenopausal bleeding

Battling the condition

Santhi underwent 47 rounds of external beam radiation therapy, where a high-powered radiation beam is directed at the affected area of the body, besides five rounds of chemotherapy. In addition, three rounds of internal radiation therapy, also called brachytherapy, where a device with radioactive material is placed inside the vagina to kill the cancerous cells, were also performed.

Recalling her radiation therapy sessions, she shared, “I was afraid that they would be excruciating. My sister came along for the first session. Following this, I got the courage to go to the hospital alone for subsequent sessions. Occasionally, I would need to stay overnight for the sessions, and my husband or my older son, who was 16 at the time, would stay with me. The other person would stay home with my younger son.” Her family became her pillar of strength as she battled the disease and their positivity and constant reassurance gave her the mental strength needed to keep her spirits up and overcome the condition. Medical experts also stress that familial support is invaluable to those undergoing cervical cancer treatment.

What are the complications of cervical cancer?

Dr Raghavan explained that there are four stages of cervical cancer. While the early signs of the condition can be easy to miss, complications occur when it reaches an advanced stage, where it affects the other parts of the body.

Stage 1: The tumor is confined to the cervix.

Stage 2: The cancer spreads to the uterus or upper part of the vagina or pelvic wall.

Stage 3: The cancer spreads to the bladder or blocks the ureters (the tubes that connect the bladder and the kidney), causing kidney failure. It may even spread to the entire vagina.

Stage 4: The cancer spreads to different regions of the cervix and affects other organs.

“Since the cervix is close to the bladder and urinary tubes, the cancer can affect them,” said Dr Raghavan. Moreover, brachytherapy has its risks and side effects. “In my case, it ruptured the urinary tube and damaged the bladder. Initially, it was excruciating, with blood in the urine. The pain reduced over time. But I cannot empty my bladder completely and require self-catheterization three to four times a day,” says Santhi, who has been cancer-free for nine years now.

Takeaways

  • Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer among women across the globe.
  • Bleeding after intercourse, pelvic pain or pain during intercourse, persistent white discharge with a strong odor, blood stains or discharge in between periods, abnormal bleeding, heavier or longer periods and postmenopausal bleeding are some of the early warning signs of cervical cancer.
  • About 85% of cervical cancers are caused by HPV strains. Taking HPV vaccine and regular pap smear can help prevent the disease.

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