LIFESTYLE & COMMUNITY
46-Year-Old Woman Thought She Was Going Through Menopause, But Her Symptoms Turned Out To Be Cervical Cancer
What are the symptoms of cervical cancer and menopause?
You may think, what does menopause have to do with cervical cancer? In fact, it is possible to mistake symptoms of the latter for those of the former, as one 46-year-old woman found out (we’ll get to it later). So what signs and symptoms do they produce, and which of them overlap?
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Cervical cancer is a relatively uncommon type of cancer. It has been on the decline recently, thanks to screening tests and HPV vaccines. According to the American Cancer Society, the disease may not produce any clear signs and symptoms in its early stages, but it may cause abnormal bleeding, pain during sex, and unusual vaginal discharge.
Signs and symptoms of menopause are quite different. According to the Mayo Clinic, they may include irregular periods, hot flashes (one of the most common and bothersome symptoms), mood swings, vaginal dryness, weight gain, and skin dryness. Sleep problems are also common in women who are going through menopause.
Both menopause and cervical cancer can cause pain and discomfort during sex, tiredness, and irregular menstrual bleeding.
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Carol Lacey’s story
In 2011, when Carol Lacey was 46, she developed symptoms she thought were caused by menopause. She was tired all the time, suffered from hot flashes and had pain during sex. Luckily, she grew concerned enough to go for a check-up.
Carol’s doctor told her something she never expected to hear: she had cervical cancer. In an interview with Reader’s Digest, Carol recalled:
As soon as the doctor began my physical exam, she saw the mass on my cervix. It turned out to be a seven-centimeter mass, and it was cancerous.
Cancer diagnosis may be difficult to process, especially if you didn’t have any signs or symptoms (or thought you didn’t). In an interview for the American Cancer Society, Carol said:
It was pretty devastating. When you hear those words, ‘you have cancer’, life stops. You kind of float.
Carol’s initial treatment involved chemotherapy, radical hysterectomy, and 28 rounds of radiation. Almost a year later, the cancer was back. Carol’s only option was pelvic exenteration, which involves removing the colon, bladder, and vagina.
Even with the surgery, the cancer reared its ugly head a year later. This time, Carol’s treatment included chemo and immunotherapy. Fortunately, it worked.
Although the treatment and recovery process wasn’t without its challenges, Carol set out to help other women. In the interview with Reader’s Digest, she said:
During the process of treatment, I volunteered with the American Cancer Society and The Relay for Life, along with a cervical cancer support group named the Cervivors. Without these two groups, I never would have made it — they were such a source of strength and support for me.
How to lower your risk of cervical cancer
Cervical cancer isn’t always preventable, but there are ways to lower your risk of the disease. Here’s what you can do to reduce your chances of developing cervical cancer, according to the CDC:
- Get regular screenings to catch any precancerous changes early. Ask your doctor if you need Pap tests an HPV tests, and how often you need them.
- Don’t smoke. Smoking can make your body less able to fight off HPV, and HPV infection dramatically increases your risk of cervical cancer.
- HPV is the most common viral STI, but using condoms can reduce your risk of getting it. Having sex with only one regular partner is also recommended.
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Cervical cancer is uncommon, but it’s still important to watch for any symptoms and have regular screenings. Stay safe!