Many women face the possibility of having a reproductive disease/problems at some point in their lifetime. For some they’ve had issues their whole lives, for others problems develop suddenly with little or no warning. Some of the reproductive diseases that women can face are well known while others are not very well known and often get missed or misdiagnosed until it is either too late for treatment or the woman is physically and mentally/emotionally crippled by the pain.
This blog post series is inspired by my own recent experience of facing a potential diagnosis of either Endometriosis, which is what I was officially diagnosed with after a minor laparoscopic surgery and I already had a rudimentary knowledge of endometriosis as my mother has it as well, or Ovarian Cancer, which I knew pretty much nothing about let alone what the most common symptoms were until I faced the possibility of having it and began researching everything I could about ovarian cancer, so we are going to have a look at some of the most common reproductive diseases and problems that we as women can potentially face including endometriosis and ovarian cancer. I must stress right now that not everyone will develop one of these diseases/problems and this is not intended as a diagnostic or medical tool, this post is meant to provide awareness as it is always a good idea to know the signs and symptoms that can point to there being a problem so that you can find the best care provider possible for your particular circumstances.
The diseases we will be looking at in this blog post series are as follows:
- Ovarian Cancer
- Cervical Cancer
- Uterine Cancer
- Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)
Uterine cancer is a cancer of the uterus. There are two types of uterine cancer, each one forming from different areas of the uterus.
It is also called Cancer of the Uterus, is more common in women over 50 and is the most diagnosed gynaecological cancer in Australia with over 2,500 women being diagnosed in 2013 alone. In 2014 there were almost 500 reported deaths from Uterine Cancers.
So What Is Uterine Cancer?
Uterine cancer is made up of two types of cancers – the most common with approximately 75% of all uterine cancer diagnoses is endometrial cancer which forms in the endometrium, or lining, of the uterus (the endometrium is, amongst other things, what is shed each cycle during a menstrual period), and uterine sarcomas which develop in the muscle tissues that form the rest of the uterus (the muscle tissue of the uterus is known as the myometrium).
Signs and Symptoms of Uterine Cancer
- Unusual vaginal bleeding not related to your normal period (this is the most common symptom of uterine cancer) or unusual bleeding occurring after you have been through menopause
- Some women have reported experiencing unusual or watery discharge, different to their normal cyclic discharge, which may have an offensive smell
- Difficulty urinating and/or painful urination
- Pain during sex
- Abnormal pain in the pelvic area or abdomen
- Abnormal pap smear results
- Unexplained weight loss
Diagnosis and Treatment of Uterine Cancer
- Diagnosis of uterine cancer is not as simple as having a pap smear. If uterine cancer is suspected you will likely be given a physical examination to check your abdomen for swelling or abnormal lumps, which will include an internal examination much like when you have a pap smear only instead of just having your cervix “scraped ” your doctor may feel your uterus by placing two fingers inside your vagina and pressing down on your lower abdomen from the outside at the same time, your doctor may also use a speculum. You will likely also have a blood test, or a series of them, and will be asked questions about your health, your immediate families health and your family medical history as well.
- Part of the testing you undergo will highly likely include a transvaginal (internal) ultrasound to have a look at your bladder, ovaries, fallopian tubes uterus and the thickness of the endometrium. An ultrasound may pick up abnormalities that cannot be felt during a physical examination and will assist your doctor by providing more information about your internal organs during the diagnostic process. An MRI, CAT scan or PET scan may be offered to give clearer images of your internal organs as well, these scans can assist with finding and diagnosing illnesses but MRI and CAT scans do not always show the early stages of cancer (a PET scan can show where areas of inflammation/activity are located, if cancer is suspected a PET scan can show the general location of where it might be which can help with both diagnosis and treatment, and can also monitor progression of the disease and/or the effectiveness of treatment).
- Depending on the location of your uterine cancer a D&C (dilation and curette) and/or a biopsy will be needed to conclusively diagnose uterine cancer. These can be done awake with local anaesthesia or while you are unconscious under general anaesthesia. A D&C is used to collect endometrial tissue for testing and a biopsy is used to collect both endometrial and myometrial tissue for testing. There are two types of biopsy – fine needle aspiration which is where some tissue/cells are collected by a needle, and excisional biopsy where larger tissue samples are surgically collected. Excisional biopsy has a lower failure rate than fine needle biopsies (sometimes not enough tissue is gained in the fine needle sample resulting in you having to go back and have another one done) and excision also has a lower false negative rate (related to not enough tissue being gained from fine needle biopsy, this can also happen by not getting a tissue sample from the exact place where the affected tissue is located as well, excision takes a larger section of tissue which allows for more of the suspect area to be tested).
Treatment will depend on the stage and type of cancer that you have, the location of your cancer within your body, the size of the cancer, where it started, your family history and your own health.
For many women surgery will be the only treatment that they need, however if it has spread beyond the uterus you will need further treatment like radiotherapy, chemotherapy and/or hormone treatment (some uterine cancers can be treated with hormone therapy).
Alternative or complimentary therapies, when combined with any of the above listed treatment options, can be useful for many and may contribute to making cancer treatment easier to get through.
If treatment does not work or the cancer is too far advanced at the time of diagnosis for treatment to have much effect then you may be offered Palliative Care.
It is best to speak with your doctor and ask lots of questions to help you understand what your treatment options are and what you can do, using the BRAIN acronym – benefits (what are they?), risks (what are they?), alternatives (are there any other options/alternatives to what is on offer?), intuition (what does your intuition/gut tell you?) & nothing (what would happen if you do nothing at all?) - can help you with making your decision about what you wish to do.
When do I seek Help?
Seek help when:
When you experience any of these symptoms continuously and/or regularly for more 4 weeks (in the case of post menopausal women) or 4 or more menstrual cycles (if you still have your menstrual cycle). If symptoms worsen suddenly, or change further please see your doctor and/or specialist ASAP.