The polyp was a clue
Regular screening detects cervical cancer early -- when it’s most treatable
BY AMBER SMITH
Postponing routine medical visits might have been tempting during the pandemic. Nina Alfano, 37, a school bus driver in North Syracuse, is glad she kept the appointment with her gynecologist.
Alfano had not heard of cervical polyps when her doctor found one during an exam in March 2020. The doctor called Alfano two days later with results from the laboratory: The polyp was cancerous, and she was arranging for Alfano to see Mary Cunningham, MD, chief of gynecologic oncology and a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Upstate.
After being healthy her whole life, Alfano now faced a health crisis. But because she was vigilant with routine gynecological care, she would have a good chance at successful treatment. She went to the appointment with Cunningham. After the exam, they met in a conference room.
“She said, ‘You really had someone on your side. If this was six months later, we would be having a very different conversation,’” Alfano recalls.
The cancer was called an adenocarcinoma. Cunningham asked whether Alfano planned to have more children – her son, Gregory, is 7 – and explained that the best treatment would be a hysterectomy, to remove the uterus and cervix.
Alfano underwent a series of medical imaging scans and other preoperative tests at the same time restaurants and businesses were closing and sending workers home because of the growing outbreak of coronavirus.
The surgery was a success. “I could not have been put in better hands,” Alfano says. “Dr. Cunningham is phenomenal.” The pathology report indicated Alfano would not require chemotherapy or radiation treatments. And, she says her scar has healed so well, “you can barely even tell that I was cut.”
In the first year since the surgery, Alfano had checkups with Cunningham every three months. They’ll be scheduled less frequently in her second and third years. They are appointments that, even during a pandemic, Alfano says she will keep.
About cervical cancer
- For the best chance of successful treatment, the American Cancer Society recommends regular screening tests for cervical cancer beginning at age 25.
- Cervical cancer usually produces no symptoms at first.
- As the cancer grows, symptoms may include abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge, pain in the pelvic region or during sex, abnormal vaginal bleeding, bleeding between periods or after sex, bleeding after menopause, or menstrual periods that are longer or heavier than usual.
- More advanced disease may cause swelling in the legs, problems urinating or having a bowel movement, or blood in the urine.
Source: American Cancer Society