Uterine and Endometrial Cancer
Both uterine and endometrial cancers form in the female reproductive system. The uterus, also known as the womb, is the organ where a fetus grows and develops during pregnancy. The endometrium is the inner lining of the uterus. Cancer cells developing in the endometrium are classified as carcinomas (cancer cells forming in the lining tissue) and those developing in the uterus are sarcomas (cancer cells forming in the muscle tissue). In the United States, uterine and endometrial cancer is the most common cancer of female reproductive organs1.
Credit: American Cancer Society
What are the different types of uterine and endometrial cancer?
There are several types of uterine & endometrial cancer that affect the different cells of this region. Read more about the types of uterine & endometrial cancer.
What are the symptoms of uterine and endometrial cancer?
Most often uterine cancer occurs after menopause. The most common symptom is abnormal vaginal bleeding, ranging in blood flow. Some other common symptoms include:
- Unusual vaginal bleeding or discharge
- Pain during urination
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Pelvic pain or pressure
- Weight loss
How is uterine and endometrial cancer diagnosed?
Physical Exams will focus on the abdomen and pelvis. During this exam, the doctor will search for any bumps or nodules in this area.
Biopsy consists of taking a small sample of cells from inside the uterus/endometrium and examining the sample under a microscope for the presence of cancer cells.
Imaging tests use x-rays, magnetic fields, or sound waves to create pictures of the inside of your body. For uterine and endometrial cancer, these tests may include ultrasounds, cystoscopy, computed tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, positron emissions tomography (PET) scans, and chest x-rays.
Blood tests for uterine and endometrial cancer include the Cancer antigen (CA) 125 test and a Complete blood count (CBC).
Hysteroscopy uses a tiny telescope (about 1/6 inch in diameter) that is inserted into the uterus through the cervix. To get a better view of the inside of the uterus, the uterus is filled with salt water. This allows the health care provider to see and biopsy anything abnormal, such as a tumor or a polyp.
Dilation & Curettage is the widening/opening the cervix followed by scraping the lining of the uterus (curettage) to examine the cells under a microscope to check for cancer.
What are the different stages of uterine and endometrial cancer?
The 2 systems used for staging endometrial cancer are the FIGO (International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics) system and the American Joint Committee on Cancer’s TNM staging system.
What are the treatment options for uterine and endometrial cancer?
This uterine & endometrial cancer treatment information does not outline the particular treatment(s) a uterine & endometrial cancer patient will receive. Rather, it provides general information about the typical treatments used to treat uterine & endometrial cancer.
Primary treatment options:
- Surgery for uterine and endometrial cancer includes: hysterectomies (removal of the body of the uterus and cervix); radical hysterectomies (removal of the uterus, cervix, upper part of the vagina and nearby lymph nodes); and salpingo oophorectomies (removal of fallopian tubes and ovaries).
- Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to treat cancer. This treatment is potentially useful for cancer that has spread beyond the endometrium.
- Radiation therapy uses high-energy beams of radiation to kill cancer cells found in the uterus. For uterine and endometrial cancer, these therapies include internal radiation therapy (also known as brachytherapy) and external beam radiation therapy.
Secondary treatment options:
- Hormone therapy slows the growth of cancer cells by reducing estrogen levels in the body. This can be used alone or as a combination with other treatments.
What are the major risk factors of uterine and endometrial cancer?
- Age: Women often develop uterine cancer after age 50.
- Number of menstrual cycles: Women who have had more menstrual cycles in their lifetime have an increased risk of developing endometrial cancer. This is especially true if a woman started her menstrual cycle before age 12 and is going through menopause after age 50.
- Childbearing status: Research has found that pregnancy may reduce the risk of endometrial cancer.
- Obesity: Women who are obese tend to produce additional estrogen (the female sex hormone), which increases their risk of developing uterine cancer.
- Family history: Women who have a family history of endometrial cancer, colon or ovarian cancer, including genetic syndrome called hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC), may have a higher risk of developing endometrial cancer.
- Diabetes: Endometrial cancer is more common in women with diabetes, especially type 2 diabetes patients.
- Estrogen replacement therapy: Replacing estrogen without progesterone after menopause may increase a woman’s risk of developing uterine cancer.
- Tamoxifen: Women who are taking tamoxifen (Nolvadex) to prevent or to treat breast cancer have an increased risk to developing uterine cancer.
- Race: Caucasian women are more likely than African American women to develop uterine cancer.
- Diet: Women who eat high amounts of animal fat increase their risk of uterine cancer.
How is uterine and endometrial cancer prevented?
- Maintaining a healthy weight, balanced diet, and routine physical activity
- Treating precancerous conditions found in the uterus and endometrium
- Taking Progestins, drugs prescribed to women receiving estrogen therapy