'My heavy periods turned out to be womb cancer'

woman rests her hand on her stomach
'My heavy periods turned out to be womb cancer'Laurence Monneret

The early years of your career are oh-so-busy. Nerve-wracking yet exciting as you figure out how to get noticed by your boss for all the right reasons, while juggling your social life at the same time.

It was like that for me back in March 2022. Which is also when my doctor told me I needed surgery to remove polyps from my womb.

I was a trainee solicitor in a firm in Manchester City Centre and had been experiencing heavy periods for six or so months, but I'd not been expecting anything much to come of the appointment. In fact, I initially wasn't even going to see a doctor as I (wrongly) assumed most women have some sort of issue with their period, from pain to heavy bleeding or irregularities.

Growing up I’d heard countless people describe their periods as a ‘nightmare’, and like many women, I’d experienced my fair share of period-related problems too (namely when I started the contraceptive pill for my skin during university). Things calmed down for a time, after I stopped the pill, then years later in my mid-twenties, not long after starting my new job, my heavy periods started again.

Thankfully, my flatmate convinced me to speak to my GP. So, off I went one lunch break and they quickly referred me on to a specialist, after I explained my heavy periods were so bad I was setting alarms in the middle of the night – forever worried I was going to leak. When my periods were at their worst, I changed my tampons every 30 to 40 minutes.

My symptoms, the doctor explained, weren't something to chalk up to 'classic period problems' – I needed further investigation. I was sent for an ultrasound and referred to a gynaecologist (who I saw privately as I had access through my work-issued medical insurance).

It was then that the polyps were detected. When I first found out I'd need them removed from my womb, I didn't feel overly alarmed.

Polyp removal, after all, is usually a quick and easy procedure: abnormal growths are cut away so they can be checked for cancer. The whole thing takes a matter of minutes and more often than not the polyps are benign – the chances of an endometrial polyp being cancerous is 1-2% in pre-menopausal women. Which is to say, pretty low.

Although the cause isn’t known, it’s thought polyps are caused by hormonal factors. My gynae consultant simply said I likely had too much oestrogen in my womb, and didn’t seem overly concerned, so I tried to keep calm too.

amy standing in front of a building at her graduation
Amy Smethurst

After a small procedure to remove the polyps, they were then sent to histology, so we could rule out anything more concerning. Given my consultant’s comments, I assumed that my follow-up appointment would be quick and easy – they'd simply tell me nothing was found and I could be on my way, surely? I saw no need to cancel my dinner plans with friends that evening.

Instead, during my post-operative appointment, I was told that there was something wrong and I needed an MRI scan.

An agonising two weeks followed as I waited for my follow-up consultation – and then I finally received the news I’d been dreading. I was told I had womb cancer, at just 25-years-old.

Though womb cancer remains most common in women who have been through the menopause, it’s still one of five main types of gynaecological cancer – and womb cancer, specifically, is the fourth most common cancer for women in the UK. But still, I didn’t know the symptoms – which include vaginal bleeding between your periods or, like in my case, heavy periods that are unusual for you.

amy smiles for camera in denim jumpsuit
Amy Smethurst

My cancer was detected at the earliest possible stage: stage 1A. Thankfully it had not spread elsewhere and as a result, I’ve been able to pursue fertility-sparing treatment.

Now, the polyps containing cancerous cells have been removed and a Mirena coil has been inserted to help regulate the hormones in my womb. The plan is that the coil will remain in place until I want it removed, or decide I want to try to have a baby.

It’s now two years since I was first diagnosed and during my last test, no cancer was detected. I'll continue to need regular tests to check for cancerous cells, but it's hoped I’ll soon be in remission.

My hope in speaking out is to help end stigma and raise awareness of lesser known gynaecological cancers. At first, I felt embarrassed to tell some of my friends, family and colleagues about my diagnosis, but I needn't have. Talking about gynaecological health can help to save lives – it’s an incredibly important thing to do.

I've already had women in my life share how my story has encouraged them to go to the GP to get possible symptoms checked out, and to make sure they’re aware of the symptoms in the first place.

Despite everything I’ve been through, I’ve been really lucky. I went to the doctor assuming I wouldn’t get an answer, expecting to be told my heavy periods were something I’d just have to grin and bear. But, as my experience shows, if you have any doubts or concerns, it is always worth going to your GP.

Womb cancer: what are the signs and symptoms?

Around 9,700 people are diagnosed with womb cancer (also known as uterine cancer) in the UK every year – that’s approximately 27 new cases every day. It can affect anyone with a womb, and it is most common in people who have been through the menopause. Yet, too many of us aren’t aware of the symptoms or the changes that signal something could be wrong and we need to talk to a medical professional. Here, Consultant Gynaecological Oncology surgeon, John Butler, explains what to look out for.

Symptoms may include:

  • Bleeding or spotting from the vagina after the menopause

  • Heavy periods that are unusual for you

  • Vaginal bleeding between your periods

  • A change to your vaginal discharge

Mr Butler advises that women stay familiar with their own body and cycles to help them identify when they are experiencing any common symptoms or signs of gynaecological cancer, so that they can seek medical advice.

Crucially, he concludes, if you have any worries concerning your gynaecological health, please speak to your GP or your healthcare professional.

Amy Smethurst shared her story with the support of The Lady Garden Foundation, a charity raising awareness of gynaecological health. More information and support is available on the charity's website.

This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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