Uterine Cancer - Endometrial Cancer
IntroductionEndometrial cancer is the most common type of uterine cancer. It is the most common cancer of the female reproductive system. The primary symptom of endometrial cancer is abnormal vaginal bleeding. Treatment usually involves surgery followed by radiation, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, or a combination of treatments. Because the majority of endometrial cancers are detected and treated early, it is associated with better outcomes than other forms of gynecological cancers.
The internal female reproductive system includes the ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, cervix, and vagina. The ovaries are two small organs that produce eggs (ova) and hormones. An ovary typically releases one mature egg each month. Two fallopian tubes extend from near the ovaries to the uterus. The fallopian tubes transport the mature eggs to the uterus (womb).
The uterus is a pear-shaped organ. The inner lining of the uterus is called the endometrium. The outer layer of the uterus, the myometrium, is composed of muscle tissue. Each month the uterine lining thickens as it builds up extra blood and tissue in preparation for a potential fertilized egg. An egg that is fertilized by a sperm cell may implant itself in the nourishing lining and develop into a baby. An unfertilized egg or a fertilized egg that does not implant in the uterus passes through the reproductive system. During menstruation the uterine lining sheds and the blood leaves the body through the vagina.
The vagina is a muscular passageway that extends from the cervix to the external female genitalia. The cervix is located at the bottom of the uterus. The cervix joins the uterus to the vagina and opens during childbirth.
You may experience lower abdominal or pelvic pain. You may feel a lump or a mass in your lower abdomen. It may be difficult or painful to urinate. You may experience pain during sexual intercourse. You may also lose weight.
The symptoms of endometrial cancer may be similar to the symptoms of other less serious conditions. It is important to have general symptoms and signs of uterine endometrial cancer evaluated by a doctor. Cancer that is detected early improves the likelihood of successful treatment.
Your doctor will review your medical history and family history of cancer. Your doctor will examine your abdomen for any abnormal masses or lumps. Your doctor will perform a pelvic examination and a Pap smear test. A transvaginal ultrasound may be used to produce images of the uterus and reproductive organs. A uterine tissue sample may be taken for biopsy, an examination for cancer or abnormal cells. In some cases, a dilation and curettage (D&C) surgery is necessary to remove the uterine lining to check for cancer or abnormal cells.
If you have endometrial cancer, your doctor will assign your cancer a classification stage based on the results of all of your tests. Staging describes the cancer and how it has metastasized. Cancer that has spread from its original site is termed metastasized cancer. Staging is helpful for treatment planning and recovery prediction.
There is more than one type of staging system for cancer, and you should make sure that you and your doctor are referring to the same one. Generally, lower numbers in a classification system indicate a less serious cancer, and higher numbers indicate a more serious cancer. The stages may be subdivided into grades or classifications that use letters and numbers.
You may prevent uterine cancer by reducing the risk factors that you can control. It is helpful to lose excess weight and maintain a healthy weight. Talk to your doctor about your risk for uterine cancer before taking estrogen supplements.
Am I at RiskRisk factors may increase your likelihood of developing endometrial cancer. Women with all of the risk factors may never develop the disease; however, the chance of developing endometrial cancer increases with the more risk factors you have. You should tell your doctor about your risk factors and discuss your concerns.
Risk factors for endometrial cancer:
_____ Endometrial cancer occurs more frequently in women who are over the age of 50; but it can certainly occur in younger women.
_____ The risk is higher for women with endometrial hyperplasia, an abnormally high number of cells in the uterine lining. In some cases, endometrial hyperplasia can turn into cancer.
_____ Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is associated with an increased risk of uterine cancer development. The risk is higher for women who receive estrogen alone versus a combination of estrogen and progesterone.
_____ Greater cumulative estrogen exposure is associated with an increased risk for uterine cancer. Women who have never given birth, never were pregnant, began menstruation at an early age, or began menopause later in life are exposed to estrogen longer and have a higher risk of developing uterine cancer.
_____ Obesity is associated with an increased risk of uterine cancer. Estrogen is stored in the fatty tissues in the body. Women with high body fat percentages are more likely to have high estrogen levels.
_____ High blood pressure and diabetes is linked to an increased risk for uterine cancer.
_____ Polycystic ovarian disease is associated with an increased risk for uterine cancer. Polycystic ovarian disease causes an increase in estrogen.
_____ A history of benign (noncancerous) endometrial polyps or growths contributes to an increased risk for uterine cancer.
_____ Tamoxifen, a medication used to treat breast cancer, may increase the risk of endometrial cancer.
_____ Caucasian women have the highest incidence of uterine cancer.
_____ Women who have had colon, breast, or ovarian cancer have a higher risk of developing uterine cancer.
_____ A family history of uterine cancer increases a woman’s risk for uterine cancer.
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This information is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be used in place of an individual consultation or examination or replace the advice of your health care professional and should not be relied upon to determine diagnosis or course of treatment.
The iHealthSpot patient education library was written collaboratively by the iHealthSpot editorial team which includes Senior Medical Authors Dr. Mary Car-Blanchard, OTD/OTR/L and Valerie K. Clark, and the following editorial advisors: Steve Meadows, MD, Ernie F. Soto, DDS, Ronald J. Glatzer, MD, Jonathan Rosenberg, MD, Christopher M. Nolte, MD, David Applebaum, MD, Jonathan M. Tarrash, MD, and Paula Soto, RN/BSN. This content complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information. The library commenced development on September 1, 2005 with the latest update/addition on February 16, 2022. For information on iHealthSpot’s other services including medical website design, visit www.iHealthSpot.com.