As women undergo hormonal changes throughout the course of their lives, this can also mean that physical and immune function can rapidly vary with these fluctuations. However, it is important to recognize that while these cycles can seem exhausting on the body and mind, they are affecting a balance within the system, which is also integral to health and wellbeing.
For many women, the occurrence of certain cancers is much higher after menopause, due to the manner in which the hormonal changes that have occurred. However, some viruses and sexually transmitted disease can trigger the production of cancerous cells, and post-menopausal women also exhibit a higher risk tendency for unprotected sex. Although the presence of a life partner should reduce the transmission of disease, this is not always the outcome, and this further escalates the risk factor.
Risk Factors for Cervical Cancer
However, there are also a number of risk factors that have been identified to show correlation with the occurrence of cervical cancer after menopause.
- Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) – this virus has been documented in over 150 strains and is directly linked to the presence of cervical cancer. HPV is essentially a type of wart, although it can quickly mutate into uncontrolled growth and is not always visibly detectable. As HPV begins to propagate papillomas, these tumerous growths begin to necrotize surrounding tissues.
- Smoking – this directly impact all the mucus membranes in the body, which means that chemicals in tobacco influence the DNA within the mucus walls of the cervix. Quitting at any point can greatly reduce this risk factor, and can also facilitate the treatment and healing process.
- Auto-immune diseases – since these types of conditions chronically attack healthy tissue cells, the outcome is that mutation within the healthy cells is far more likely. While this alone can impair the immune response in actually targeting diseased cells, medications that further suppress the immune system can also lead to the presence of cervical cancer after menopause.
- Chlamydia infections – although the spread of STDs in general has shown a significant correlation to cervical cancer, this bacterial infection can also lead to chronic infections which are thought to trigger abnormal growth in the cervical cells.
Most of these risk factors are avoidable and the importance of regular OB-GYN appointments and routine pap smears cannot be understated for women’s health. Early detection can also lead to more promising treatment, while pap smears can also uncover precursor signs. This means that pro-active measures for greater prevention can also be taken.
The Symptoms of Cervical Cancer
Although regular visits to the physician can play a large part in identifying cervical cancer after menopause, it is also important for women to be aware of symptoms as this can indicate that medical attention is required.
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding – this may occur after intercourse, but can also present in menopausal women as sudden spotting long after menstruation has stopped.
- Vaginal discharge – while this can also contain spotting and blood, it may also present as a viscous mucus with a slightly dark color.
- Pain during and after intercourse – although menopausal women do experience a restructuring of the vaginal tissue once menstruation has stopped, constant and severe pain with intimacy can be an indicator of cervical cancer
It is important to note that these symptoms can also indicate a pelvic inflammation or other complication with the reproductive or urinary system. However, these signs should not be overlooked, and scheduling an appointment at a women’s health clinic or doctor’s office is always a wise idea.
Cervical Cancer Stages and Treatment
Cervical cancer is classified into five stages, ranging from 0 to 4, and based on the nature of the tumors which are detected. Treatment options, drugs, and a cure can vary, dependent upon when the disease is detected.
- Stage 0 – this is essentially thought of as a pre-cancerous condition. In this stage, the tumors are found only in the surface layer of the cells and the cancer not considered to be invasive. The tumor may be surgically removed, and follow up with antibiotics and even an HPV vaccination may be applicable.
- Stage 1 – at this point the cancer has spread from the cervix lining into the deeper tissue, however, it has not spread to surrounding organs, the lymph nodes, or the rest of the body. Surgery can still be an option, and further monitoring will be required.
- Stage 2 – in this stage, the tumors have spread to surrounding organs such as the vagina and the uterus, but the cancer is still contained within the pelvic region. Surgery may or may not be an option, and alternatives such as directed radiation may be required.
- Stage 3 – at this point the cancer has invaded tissues outside of the pelvic region, but there is still no sign of spread to the lymph nodes or outlying areas of the body. Treatment for this stage includes general radiation therapy and chemotherapy, although a full hysterectomy may also be required.
- Stage 4 – at this point, the cancer has spread to other organ systems in the body, and cancerous growths are visible in the lymph nodes. Although treatment at this stage can still include radiation, chemotherapy, a and targeted drugs such as paclitaxel, gemcitabine, topotecan, or bevacizumab may also be used. However, at this stage, the cervical cancer is considered without a cure, and treatment interventions are largely focused on management.
One of the most important things to recognize for women’s health is that cervical cancer after menopause can be cured, so long as it is caught in the early stages. Further, although the surgeries for stages 0 through 2 can be the excision of just the tumor, due to the rapid spread of this cancer, a full hysterectomy may still be advised.
While early stages can be treated and generate remission, there may be as high as a 40% chance that the cancer can become recurrent. Even with good treatment outcomes, it is still important that women continue to monitor the condition.