Sky Sports Presenter Charlotte Jackson's Battle with Polyps
Posted Jan 25 2010 12:00am
I've just been reading the following article and thought I'd share it here as I had no idea that irregular menstrual bleeding could be quite so serious:
Sky Sports News presenter Charlotte Jackson rarely finds herself fazed, particularly when it comes to her health.
It has to be a major crisis - 'like a leg dropping off' - before she will go to the GP.
'I'm a doctor's daughter,' says the 30-year-old newscaster by way of explanation. 'I hate to make a fuss, so I'm bad at going to see my GP.'
Indeed, last May, when her period continued for six weeks, she just 'hoped' it would clear up by itself. As Charlotte explains: 'I was used to being irregular, so it really didn't bother me.'
But it didn't improve, and gradually became heavier and continuous.'
'I would come home from work, eat and then shoot out to the gym, but suddenly I felt so lethargic all I wanted to do was laze around on the sofa.
'I could always put on a smile for the cameras, but between takes the crew would comment on how exhausted I was looking.'
Only after a trip to hospital for an unrelated condition did Charlotte discover the cause of her problem - polyps. And the delay in seeking medical advice could have affected her fertility and even put her at risk of cancer.
Polyps are fleshy growths in the womb's lining, ranging from a few millimetres to several centimetres.
Almost one in ten women will develop them at some point; they usually appear after 40, and more commonly after the menopause. The exact cause is not clear, but it's thought polyps are stimulated by hormones such as oestrogen.
And although usually benign, left untreated polyps can become cancerous. The main symptom is either heavier bleeding during periods or bleeding between menstrual cycles, explains Professor Janice Rymer, of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.
'Some patients also report pain or discomfort if their womb is attempting to expel polyps, resulting in cramps. If the womb pushes these "expelled polyps" into the cervix, they are likely to become infected,' she says.
But in all cases polyps must be removed - mainly to determine whether they are cancerous, but also to cure the irregular bleeding. Polyps can also affect fertility, by preventing eggs from implanting.
Professor Rymer, who is based at Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital, London, says: 'The usual procedure is to cut them out and send them off for a biopsy. Although we find malignancy in only a small number of cases, if a cancer is found, a hysterectomy is often recommended to prevent it from spreading.'
'It's important that anyone experiencing a change in their bleeding patterns should see their doctor straight away.
There are other causes for heavy or persistent bleeding - fibroids, endometriosis or an infection in the womb. But too many women ignore changes in their bleeding and hope the problem will go away.' As Charlotte did.
At the time, she was working for the TV sports channel Setanta, which was in severe financial difficulty, and at first she thought the problem was as a result of stress about job security.
Although she felt shattered all the time, she didn't see a doctor until she went to hospital for something else. 'I developed this pain below my ribs,' she says. 'I couldn't walk or breathe properly without it hurting.
'The pain became worse, like having a broken rib. A week after it started, I came off air struggling to breathe and the studio staff called an ambulance.'
Charlotte assumed her heavy bleeding was linked, so she mentioned it to the doctors. She remained in hospital for a week, and medics soon discovered the cause of her bleeding.
'I had a hysteroscopy, where they explored my womb with a tiny camera,' says Charlotte.
'When the doctor told me it was polyps, initially I wasn't worried because he assured me the risk of cancer was tiny. But when I told my mother, I began to realise the situation could be serious. She was very worried to hear me mention cancer, and was cross with me that I'd left it so long.'
Meanwhile, the pain in her abdomen was put down to a gall bladder infection and Charlotte was given antibiotics.
But the doctors remained puzzled by her breathing difficulties and explored an alternative possible diagnosis of a blood clot on her lung.
'Eventually, they sent me home with antibiotics,' says Charlotte. 'A week later, the pain stopped and I could breathe easily again. But it has remained a mystery.'With these symptoms cleared up, Charlotte was able to undergo surgery to remove the polyps - a day after completing a triathlon for Barnardo's.
But first, six weeks before the operation in August, she was given an injection to shut down her ovaries and cause a temporary menopause - this was to ensure the womb lining would be thin enough to identify growths.
During the procedure, which is carried out under a general anaesthetic, the polyps are first located using a tiny camera, and either then snared with a wire that closes tight over them to cut them off or, if they are flat enough, just scraped away.
'I had five polyps removed - all millimetres wide, but I was sore for a month,' says Charlotte. 'I was told to use pads initially, but otherwise my recovery was quick.'
Charlotte adds: 'What surprised me was the way the doctor only told me afterwards I should be fine to have children. It had never occurred to me I might come out of this unable to get pregnant - I'm only 30 and I want a family. If polyps had prevented that, it would have been devastating.'
Unfortunately that is not the end of the problem for her. Polyps can return - as Charlotte fears may have happened to her. Despite having had hers removed only five months ago, she is now experiencing bleeding between her menstrual cycles.
Charlotte is planning to go back to the hospital to be checked before this gets any worse.
'I'm not leaving it like I did last time,' she says. If the polyps were malignant, I could have allowed cancer time to spread.'