Lessons learned: Pap smears do not pick up all kinds of female reproductive system cancers

by Deena on December 13, 2012

So

Lessons learned…

So I should start by saying no I’m not particularly worried… It could be me being extremely naïve or it could be because I just took one of my son’s Percocet. Why am I taking my son’s medicine? Well, that requires me to go back a bit.

Basically, I wasn’t paying attention to my body or my health for the past two years. I thought I was. I was eating right, I was exercising when I could. But I was ignoring symptoms that I should have been paying attention to. I can justify myself by saying well I was taking care of my terminally ill son. No one is going to argue with me. But I know the truth… I noticed the symptoms I just pushed them to the back of my mind because there were too many other things that needed my focus, my time. I figured they were just stress related.  I’m also quite sure that if anyone (including my son) had known they would have yelled so loudly that I would have been at the doctors the next day. But I didn’t say anything and well guess what…. the symptoms kept getting worse.

So about a month ago I started scheduling all those doctors appointments, dental appointments, etc. that I had neglected to do for two years. One of those happened to be my annual OB/GYN exam. Yes fun times. I know Angela detailed her experience in an earlier article so I won’t recap what that appointment is like since they are all basically the same. Except this time towards the end of the appointment, after my doctor had finished the internal exam she says “Well, that’s it unless you have any questions“. I should state that I was so close to just saying “no”.

Me:Um yes, just one. I’ve been bleeding more than usual. I’m guessing that since I’m pushing forty that maybe my hormones or something are out of whack?”

This is when I notice a look of concern cross over her face… and I think oh ****, here comes an answer I don’t want to hear.

Dr:
How long has this been going on?

Me: 6 months maybe? (what I don’t say is honestly I can’t remember how long – it could have been longer… it only started becoming more and more of a nuisance)

Dr:
Well, we’re going to do some tests.

Me:
Ok please just give it to me straight – I’ve spent the last 2 years in pediatric cancer hell… so just say what you’re thinking. I won’t fall apart.

Dr:
It could be a couple things; hormonal imbalance, thickening of the uterine lining, polyps, and/or cancer.

Me: Wouldn’t the Pap Smear pick up the cancer?(ignoring all of the other possibilities that seem insignificant when that C word is tossed out)

Dr:
No, Pap Smears only pick up cervical cancer, they do not pick up uterine (Endometrial) cancer. So we are going to schedule two tests an ultrasound and a biopsy.

Me:
ok (shaking head because I cannot believe we’re having this discussion)

 

So a couple weeks ago I went in for my ultrasound appointment. It went something like this:

Don’t eat anything, but drink a couple large bottle of water… and don’t use the restroom just hold it. The more fluid the better the imaging will be. While it’s not the worse procedure ever it wasn’t entirely comfortable. They do both an internal and external ultrasound, I’d say the worst part was just the waiting and wondering if they were seeing anything. The technician told me up front that she couldn’t provide any details that my doctor would have to share the results with me. Thankfully, my doctor calls me the next day with the results “they didn’t see anything in the ultrasound“.

Me: “Yeah, so we’re good

Dr: ” Well, I still want to do a biopsy. We can do it here in the office next week“.

So I got about a split second relief from my ultrasound results….

 

The following week I head into the dr’s office for a biopsy…. The biopsy was performed in one of their regular patient rooms – feet in stirrups, slide down on the table… you know the drill. Only this time they insert a long needle in to numb my cervix which stings. Then they dilate my cervix and using what looked like a very small tube scraped a couple sections of my uterus. I’m not going to lie, it hurt, but it was manageable. The biopsy was sent off to a lab and exactly 5 days later I had the results from my doctor.

Dr: “I have your results, there are polyps in your uterus”

Me:
” Polyps are benign right?”

Dr:
“Usually, but I want to remove them for further testing. I’m scheduling you for surgery”.

 

And today was surgery day: The proper term for the surgery was a D&C (dilation and curettage) and a hysteroscopy.

I checked in to the hospital and they almost immediately hooked me up to an IV. Prior to surgery they gave me something to take the edge off – which stung a lot when they put it in the IV but 2 seconds later I was laughing like a fool. Then they rolled me back to the OR put an oxygen mask on me and told me to take a couple deep breaths … next thing I know I’m waking up in recovery. I can’t complain about the recovery I was not in any pain just extremely tired. The Dr. handed my husband a prescription for some kind of painkiller to which I said ” I feel fine you don’t need to fill that”. She says “You’re going to most likely be really uncomfortable for 3 daysyou should fill it“. They released me from the hospital a little while later. After telling me I should have the final results in 5-7 days.

The rest of the day consisted of me laying on the couch in a semi-conscious state… until later in the evening when the hospital pain meds must have worn off. Then all I can compare it to is that I feel like I did after I gave birth… not quite to the same extreme but just overwhelmingly sore/uncomfortable. To the point that I first threatened to send my 2 kids to bed at 6PM… before realizing that it made more sense for me to drug myself and send myself to bed. (Thus where my son’s pain meds come in since I forbid my husband to fill the hospital orders… another lesson learned)

So based on all this excitement in my life – I wanted to make sure that everyone knows (because I didn’t) – that Pap smears do not pick up all kinds of female reproductive system cancers. A Pap smear samples cervical cells to check for abnormalities – and thus is really good at detecting pre-cancerous or cancer of the cervix (Cervical Cancer). So if I had gone with the “I’m not going to say anything about the fact that I am bleeding more than normal since they are testing me anyway”; I would have missed a potentially significant health issue.

 

The main symptoms for uterine cancer are abnormal bleeding (heavier than normal cycles, more than one cycle a month, etc) and pressure or pain your pelvis.

 

The main risks are as follows according to the CDC:

  • Are older than 50.
  • Are obese (have an abnormally high, unhealthy amount of body fat).
  • Take estrogen by itself (without progesterone) for hormone replacement during menopause.
  • Have had trouble getting pregnant, or have had fewer than five periods in a year before starting menopause.
  • Take tamoxifen, a drug used to treat certain types of breast cancer.
  • Have close family members who have had uterine,
    colon, or ovarian cancer.

While I won’t know the results for another week I feel pretty comfortable based on discussions with my doctor and the risks listed above that my results will be benign. But of course I’ll be a lot more confident when I get those final results back.

So please listen to your body, early diagnosis is the key in so many illnesses…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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