Mild Infection or Cervical Cancer? How To Tell…
You know how women are… there’s barely a topic we don’t cover. Life chucks stuff at us and usually, we share with our girlfriends, get some insight and decide what to do. Right?
A friend’s got a bit of a lump and we say, “check it out” – no brainer. But when that little problem is vaginal discharge, or ‘spotting’, chances are we’re talking to Dr Google. You’ve done it, I’ve done it…
… and last October (2014), on a Tuesday morning, my GP told me I had cervical cancer.
Real cancer… in my cervix… growing as we spoke. Cancer that skipped all the CIN stages. Cancer that would turn out to be centimetres big!
I hadn’t gone to the doctor looking for cancer but since I was there, she’d insisted on doing my ‘routine’ smear test.
At 43, I’d never had an abnormal pap smear. I’d been fairly religious about it when I was younger. But I was fit, healthy and experienced enough to self-diagnose ‘minor ailments’ so I hadn’t seen my doctor in a while.
I thought I’d had my smear ‘a couple’ of years ago. It had been four. Time flies.
Symptoms. People asked about symptoms. I thought I’d had none.
Bleeding after sex. Nope.
Pain in the back. Nope.
Tiredness. Sure – but don’t we all?
THEN suddenly, I remembered that in April 2014 I went to the local pharmacy for some pro-biotic, vaginal health remedy for a ‘watery discharge’.
I thought it was an early part of menopause.
I thought Dr Google would know and it did.
Dr Google diagnosed Thrush – yep, I knew what that was and that wasn’t it.
Dr Google’s next diagnosis was Bacterial Vaginosis. Now that did sound like my ‘itch-free, watery discharge kind of problem’. Tick. Turned out, just like with Thrush, there was an over the counter remedy for this very kind of vaginal ‘sniffles’. “Great”, I thought.
What I didn’t think is, “cancer of the cervical glands”. But who would think that, right? Yet the truth was those same glands that lubricate us for ‘good times’ had already been hijacked by cancer and were working overtime.
There are different kinds of cervical cancer – squamous-cell carcinoma, adenosquamous carcinoma, and adenocarcinoma. The terms relate to how high up the cervix they are found.
As a rough guide:
· Squamous-cell accounts for maybe 80-90% of all cervical cancers. It’s pretty much what pap smears are built for – the front of the cervix cells where your vag meets your cervix.
· Adenosquamous are the ones in middle (not so inventive on naming things in the medical world).
· Adeno is the other end of your cervix next to your uterus and they’re the glands that produce that loved up lubrication we so enjoy.
My cancer was adenocarcinoma. That ‘watery discharge’ was my warning sign. Thanks to my decision to use Dr Google and self-medicate, I missed the chance to catch it sooner.
For women of my age, the HPV vaccination wasn’t around to protect us. And as our chance of getting any kind of cancer increases as we age, cancer can happen right around the time we think we know our bodies best and are likely to self-diagnose.
Because I thought I knew my body – I gave my cancer six month’s extra time to grow!
If the thought of cancer is scary… the reality is worse. But the sooner we know, the better our chances are. Despite that six month delay; I recently got my first ‘all clear’. It’s exactly like finding out you don’t have that mild infection or feared STI after all… times a billion-billion!
So here’s the punchline; if you want to know the difference between a mild vaginal infection (like Bacterial Vaginosis or Thrush) and cancer – get a pap smear.
If you’re worried, get to it sooner. Sooner not only means a better chance of beating cancer; if there’s nothing to worry about – relief comes sooner too.
You know how women are… there’s barely a topic we don’t cover. Life chucks stuff at us and usually, we share it with our girlfriends, get some insight and decide what to do. Right?