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Don't ignore this common problem--it may be the sign of a serious condition.

Gloria was in her 70s when she noticed some dark vaginal post-menopausal spotting the color of old blood. She kept an eye on it and noticed that the amount of her discharge changed. Within two weeks, it had lessened. But it was still present. She mentioned this to her doctor, who sent her to a gynecologist for a pelvic exam and pap smear. Both were normal, and she had no other symptoms like pain or bloating.

The discharge continued, but its color changed from dark red to yellowish brown and the amount was less and less. It turned out that her discharge wasn't blood at all. Gloria's doctor explained that a small amount of a vaginal discharge was not unusual after menopause. When she mentioned this discharge to a few friends, Gloria was relieved to hear that a number of them had experienced a similar condition. In every case, it was nothing serious. It was either caused by a mild infection or vaginal atrophy.

But Gloria wanted to know what was going on. She wasn't convinced that this discharge was necessarily normal or safe. Neither was her doctor, who sent her back to a gynecologist. This time her gynecologist ordered a pelvic ultrasound. She wanted to measure the thickness of Gloria's uterine lining.

If her endometrial lining was no more than 5 mm thick, there was nothing to worry about. If it was thicker, it could be an indication of estrogenic activity and malignancy. Sure enough, her uterine lining was a safe 5 mm. Gloria breathed a sigh of relief. Then she and her gynecologist looked at possible reasons for her discharge.

Possible explanations

There were a number of other possible reasons for Gloria's spotting. The first one they considered was that her endometrial lining could have become too thick from too much estrogen. This was possible, but unlikely, her gynecologist explained, since Gloria was in her 70s and was most likely low in estrogen. She had stopped menstruating 25 years ago and wasn't taking any hormone replacement therapy. Not even bioidentical hormones.

Perhaps the opposite was true. The lining of her uterus may have become too thin due to lower estrogen levels. This may have caused break-through bleeding.

If anything, Gloria was likely to be low in estrogen.

There were other reasons that could explain this sudden spotting, like polyps or uterine fibroids. Perhaps a benign growth had formed in her uterus, on her cervix, or inside her cervical canal and broke, causing a discharge.

Then again, Gloria might have endometrial hyperplasia, a condition where the lining of the uterus becomes thick and bleeding may occur. If this was the case, Gloria might have abnormal cells, which, if left untreated, could lead to endometrial cancer. While this cancer is easy to treat with a partial or total hysterectomy, if cancer cells are ignored and they spread to other parts of the body, it also can be dangerous.

An infection in her uterus or cervix could also explain Gloria's symptoms. Taking blood thinning medications or supplements could explain it as well. But she wasn't taking any blood thinners.

Gloria's gynecologist was both thorough and methodical. She began at the beginning with a second pelvic exam and ultrasound, even though Gloria's first ultrasound had been performed just two months prior.

The results of this second ultrasound shocked them both. Gloria's endometrial lining, which had been 5 mm thick just two months ago, was now 21 mm! Something had triggered a strong estrogenic response. This was no time to speculate why. It was time to take immediate action. Gloria's primary doctor took charge and quickly found a surgeon who was able to schedule her for surgery without delay.

One week later, Gloria had a total hysterectomy. The surgeon found an encapsulated malignant tumor with no involved lymph nodes. It had been discovered at the earliest possible stage and had not spread. In fact, Gloria would need no radiation or chemotherapy. She didn't even need a follow-up scan. Her cancer, and the tissues on which it had grown, had been removed. After her surgery, her doctors pronounced her "cured."

An eerie coincident

One week after her doctor diagnosed Gloria's condition, I received the following email from a woman in Ireland. "I did a two month detox and it was so gentle I didn't see much in the way of results until after I had finished it. It seemed to me that I started a mild bowel cleanse, but then I started spotting dark brown blood (?) in my urine, which thinned out and stopped after a couple of weeks and then started up again and now there is about a teaspoon daily of thin, but light red blood.... My question is ... am I detoxing as I have no other symptoms like pain or burning or frequent need to urinate that might suggest cystitis?"

I was flabbergasted.

I hadn't heard of a case like Gloria's in the 30-plus years I had practiced nutrition. Now I suddenly heard of two, which were almost identical.

I told this woman, Jessica, about Gloria and urged her to get a thorough examination and tests immediately. Her discharge might be nothing serious or it could be cancer. I strongly suggest you do the same thing if you have any postmenopausal bleeding or discharge. Check it out until you discover its cause. Don't assume anything.

That's just what I told a friend of mine who is a cancer survivor and suddenly had a vaginal discharge that sounded a lot like Gloria's. Although she was frightened at the possibility that her cancer had returned, she made an appointment with her doctor immediately. It turned out that her discharge was caused by a benign uterine fibroid tumor that was quickly and easily removed.

What caused Gloria's cancer?

Something triggered an estrogenic response in Gloria, but what could it be? After close examination of all of her supplements, her surgeon and her oncologist both agreed that while it was impossible to know for certain, the culprit may very well have been an unusual supplement made from sheep placenta that Gloria had been taking for several years. All of her doctors believed that taking this nutrient over a period of several years could cause a mild estrogenic response and explain her condition.

Gloria had taken this supplement for increased energy, young looking skin, and a youthful appearance, and it appeared to work. Friends, acquaintances, and even one of the tellers in her local bank commented on how young and rested she looked. She felt more energetic as well.

Gloria had succeeded in turning back the aging clock, but she may have been unknowingly risking her health. Did this supplement cause her problem? Was her result worth the consequences? And what would have happened if she had not pursued an answer to her discharge? Or if her doctor had not insisted on re-testing her?

I am particularly interested in hearing from you if you have had a similar experience. I sincerely hope that Gloria's story will inspire you to follow through with your doctors and insist that they keep searching until they find an explanation for any unusual symptom. Don't assume you're all right because you want to be.

What about Jessica, the woman who wrote me from Ireland? She followed through with more tests. Her doctor told her that she had a 4 cm cervical cancer. Sound familiar? Unfortunately, this is where the two cases differ. Jessica had planned to go to a huge international family reunion in Spain, and none of her doctors told her she needed immediate surgery. She also prefers taking a natural approach rather than having a hysterectomy. So did Gloria, but most of all Gloria wanted to live.

Don't get me wrong. Jessica wants to live, also. But her doctors did not have the same urgency as Gloria's doctors. Once Jessica knew she had cancer, there was no reason to get more tests. In my opinion, the clock had run down on her options. I'll keep in touch with her and hope that she decides to have surgery and that her cancer hasn't and doesn't spread. And I'll keep you posted.

Nan Kathryn Fuchs, PhD

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Author:Fuchs, Nan Kathryn
Publication:Women's Health Letter
Date:Mar 1, 2015
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