If You Notice This After Menopause, Get Checked for Cancer


Menopause marks the end of a woman's menstrual cycle, and can be a time of major change in a person's life. Besides no longer having a monthly period, the reproductive hormones plummet during menopause, and many women experience a range of symptoms including hot flashes, emotional changes, sore breasts, and more. Yet long after some women have completed the menopausal process, an unexpected symptom can occur in 10 percent of women. While it may be somewhat common, experts say it should always require a medical evaluation since there is a chance it could signal uterine cancer or other serious conditions. Read on to find out which postmenopausal symptom means you should be screened for uterine cancer, and what else can cause this particular condition.

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If you experience postmenopausal bleeding, get checked for cancer.

Most women will begin to transition to the menopausal stage between the ages of 45 and 55, and will be formally diagnosed as menopausal after 12 months without a period. However, according to the Cleveland Clinic, roughly 10 percent of women over 55 experience bleeding after menopause. This is not considered normal, and always requires medical evaluation.

For 10 percent of women who experience postmenopausal bleeding, it is a sign of uterine cancer, also known as endometrial cancer. Though it is considered rare, uterine cancer is the most common kind of reproductive cancer, affecting more women than cervical and ovarian cancers combined. Roughly 50,000 patients are diagnosed with uterine cancer each year, says the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

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Most often, postmenopausal bleeding has non-cancerous causes.

While it is important to rule out the possibility of uterine cancer, 90 percent of postmenopausal bleeding is caused by other, non-cancerous gynecological conditions.

The Cleveland Clinic says that the most common cause is endometrial polyps, noncancerous growths which can form on the lining of the uterus.  Endometrial atrophy—a condition in which the lining of the uterus become thin and dry—is another cause of postmenopausal bleeding. Other patients experience the same symptom for a virtually opposite reason, endometrial hyperplasia, in which the lining of the uterus becomes abnormally thick. In some cases, the latter condition can lead to the growth of abnormal cells, eventually resulting in cancer, says the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

People on hormone replacement therapy, including estrogen or progesterone supplements may also experience bleeding, as the therapy can decrease or reverse menopausal symptoms.

You can lower certain risk factors of uterine cancer.
Courtney Hale / iStock

According to a 2013 report from the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), there are several factors which may put you at a higher risk of developing uterine cancer. In particular, that organization found that being overweight has been linked with a higher likelihood of developing the condition, and roughly 70 percent of uterine cancer patients are considered obese with a BMI of 30 or higher. Those who eat a high-glycemic diet are also considered high risk, as are those who consume high amounts of animal fat. Therefore, maintaining a healthy diet and weight can help lower your risk of uterine cancer, the AICR notes.

The American Society of Clinical Oncology adds that women who are over the age of 50, diabetic, have a family history of colon cancer, or have undergone treatment for breast cancer, ovarian cancer or colon cancer are also considered higher risk for uterine cancer. Be sure to mention any such history to your doctor if you experience postmenopausal bleeding.

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Here's what to expect at the doctor's office.

Once you've brought your concerns up with your gynecologist, they'll be able to run a series of tests to help identify the cause of the bleeding. These will most likely begin with a vaginal and cervical exam by your provider, as well as a pap smear, which allows your doctor to analyze the cervical cells. Your doctor may also order an ultrasound or a biopsy of the uterus or endometrium, says the Cleveland Clinic. If they suspect uterine cancer, you will need to see a gynecologic oncologist for further evaluation.

Talk with your doctor if you notice postmenopausal bleeding, or if you have any other questions about your transition to menopause. While cancer is unlikely to be the cause of the problem, ruling it out is an important step in your diagnosis.

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