51-year-old Dr. Jennifer Wargo urges women to see a doctor if they've already gone through menopause and they're spotting.
Dr. Jennifer Wargo, who has a career in cancer research and treatment, suspected her irregular bleeding was just part of menopause. Dr. Wargo, the co-leader of the Melanoma Moon Shot, part of MD Anderson’s Program for Innovative Microbiome and Translational Research, initially didn't suspect that anything was wrong. The 51-year-old was perimenopausal and it was normal for women to sometimes experience some spotting or irregular periods as they transition into menopause.“I have been busy working, treating patients with cancer, doing research, and taking care of the kids and started to have symptoms,” she told TODAY. “I was like, ‘Maybe this is just normal menopause.’”
Doctor thought symptom was part of menopause. It was a sign of a precancerous conditionhttps://t.co/Blf0BkQkJx— TODAY (@TODAYshow) September 15, 2021
But the bleeding did not stop. It went on for weeks: from three to six weeks. Things started to look worrisome when the bleeding got heavier and she was also passing clots. Dr. Wargo realized her overall health was being compromised after she took a run with her dog and realized she wasn't as fast and was getting tired a lot more easily. “I just had a sense that there was something wrong,” she said. But she questioned, “I had uterine bleeding. Do I really want to broadcast this?” The melanoma surgical oncologist continued, “I actually did because people need to know about this and because not only are people not aware about it — brushing this off as normal menopause and not getting treated — there’s also a lack of funding to study this.”
Bleeding after menopause could be caused due to thinner tissue of the vagina and vulva. It can also be caused because of fibroids and sometimes cancer. “If you’ve already gone through menopause and you’re spotting, that’s a dangerous sign,” she said. “Women need to go see their doctor. They need to get an exam and they really need to pay attention to that.” After checking with a doctor, Wargo learned that she had atypical endometrial hyperplasia.
What is endometrial hyperplasia? It's not cancer but it can lead to a higher risk of endometrial and uterine cancers. The condition causes abnormal bleeding due to the thickening of the uterine wall. The reason it particularly affects women after menopause is because they have too much estrogen and are no longer producing progesterone, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). Dr. Wargo's biopsy revealed her precancerous condition and so she to opt for a total hysterectomy due to the high risk of developing cancer. Her doctor found precancerous cells during the procedure. “I personally have not needed additional treatment,” Dr. Wargo said. “This is very likely cured with surgery and very unlikely to come back.” She believes in going for regular checkups: at least once in 6 months. “That’s the thing about this type of condition, either precancerous or early cancer, if you catch it early you can be cured with surgery,” she said. She urges other women to also get checked with normal cancer screenings, such as pap smears, mammograms, PSA tests and mole checks. “People shouldn’t be afraid. I can tell you that I was terrified, absolutely, because of what I have seen with my mom, what I have seen with my patients,” Wargo said. “I was absolutely terrified, but I was also really fueled by knowing that I needed to do something because if I waited it could have been far worse."