Woman to woman: endometrial cancer symptoms, tests and treatment
It began while on vacation in Arizona in the spring of 2016. Lorraine Jardine experienced occasional spotting, unusual in post-menopausal women, and decided she would see her doctor when she returned home.
“It turned out I had a polyp on my cervix. My family doctor couldn’t dislodge it so referred me to a gynecologist,” says Lorraine. “In my mind it was no cause for alarm.”
Dr. Fraser Fellows, her gynecologist at London Health Sciences Centre, removed the polyp and also scraped some uterine tissue for a biopsy to make sure everything was okay.
“When he called to tell me that I had cancer, I was in total shock,” says Lorraine. “I’m such a healthy and energetic person - how could this happen to me?”
She was diagnosed with endometrial cancer, which is a cancer of the lining of the uterus.
The main symptoms of endometrial cancer are bleeding and mucusy bloody discharge in post-menopausal women. Later stage symptoms include bloating and pelvic pain. While endometrial cancer occurs most commonly in post-menopausal women, for younger women, the first sign is most often vaginal bleeding not associated with a menstrual period.
“Polyps of the cervix are very rarely associated with cancer of the endometrium,” says Dr. Fellows.
Lorraine took her husband, John, to her consultation about treatment options with Dr. Fellows. His advice was to remove the reproductive organs: a complete hysterectomy. Newer techniques would make for a shorter recovery time than in the past.
“I am glad that my husband was with me so we had a second set of ears and he could feel comfortable with this as well,” says Lorraine. “There seemed to be no downside to this operation as anything that could be attacked by cancer was going to be removed. And, we were enjoying our retirement so we definitely weren’t planning for any more children!”
Her surgery two weeks later revealed no new surprises about the tumour. Dr. Fellows, in consultation with a pathologist, declared Lorraine to be cancer free and no further treatment was required.
“I was very pleased with my hospital stay. We had complete confidence in Dr. Fellows. Also, the nurses had worked there a long time and communicated very well between the day and night shifts, providing superb continuity,” says Lorraine. “I was treated with warmth and received good care.”
Her post-operative care includes a checkup and tests every six months for 18 months post-surgery.
Meanwhile, Lorraine has resumed golfing, skiing, and shopping with friends, and now has the energy to be more active with her husband and family.
“I was incredibly lucky. I acted on the spotting even when it went away. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be here today.”
Initially, Lorraine made the decision not to tell anyone about her diagnosis except her family. She says, “I didn’t want to be reminded of the dreaded ‘C’ word.” But she wanted her friends to be aware of the signs and to take action.
After her surgery she wrote a letter to her friends, and included a list of things she learned. Here are some of the things she mentions:
- Endometrial cancer, having to do with the lining of the uterus, is the term mostly used today.
- In post-menopausal women, endometrial cancer is the most common gynecological cancer.
- There is no screening available. The most common symptom is bleeding coming from the vaginal canal. If any type of abnormal discharge occurs, even if it stops again, see your doctor as soon as possible.
- A biopsy is done to confirm the diagnosis.
- Along with the physical diagnosis, there was the mental reaction, and for a few days after the diagnosis, I found myself having mental lapses which resulted in some painful falls.
- Coming off hormone replacement therapy for the operation meant I was subject to hot flashes again.
- The frequency of urination increased after my operation because the supports of the pelvic floor had been altered. Exercise suggestions are available online.
“I know I am very fortunate and I appreciate each new day,” says Lorraine. “Make sure you and your post-menopausal friends recognize the symptoms. It could save your life!”