Endometrial cancer is a growth of abnormal cells that form tumors in the lining of the uterus. It is the most common type of cancer in the uterus. The uterus (womb) is the muscular organ at the top of the vagina. Babies grow in the uterus, and menstrual blood comes from the uterus.
The sooner cancer is found and treated, the better your chances for recovery. However, even advanced cancer can usually be treated. Treatment may slow or stop the growth of the cancer and ease symptoms for a time. Ask your healthcare provider what you can expect with the type of cancer that you have.
What is the cause?
Uterine cancer is one of the most common cancers among women. The cause of cancer of the uterus is not known. However, you are at greater risk of having this type of cancer if there is extra estrogen in your body. Your risk is also greater if your body is exposed to estrogen for too long a time.
You may be exposed to more estrogen if you:
Have never been pregnant
Started having periods at a very young age or you stopped having periods later than most women
Have a hormone imbalance that can lead to problems with the ovaries
Have a certain type of ovarian tumor
Have a history of polycystic ovary syndrome
Use estrogen for hormone replacement therapy without progesterone
Some of the other things that may increase the risk of endometrial cancer are:
Age over 50
Tamoxifen treatment for breast cancer (very slight risk)
A history of breast, ovarian, or colon cancer
A history of diabetes, hypertension, gallbladder disease, or thyroid disease
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms may include:
Abnormal vaginal bleeding
Difficult or painful urination
Pain during sex
Pain in the pelvic area
In most cases of endometrial cancer, abnormal bleeding is the first symptom. Many women ignore this bleeding or blame it on menopause. If you have unusual bleeding or any of the other symptoms listed above, contact your healthcare provider.
How is it diagnosed?
Endometrial cancer begins inside the uterus rather than in the opening of the uterus (the cervix). For this reason, it is not usually found with a Pap test, which checks for cancer in the cervix. One of the following procedures may be used to get a sample of tissue:
Endometrial biopsy: Your healthcare provider removes a small sample of the endometrium with a tiny straw-like tube put through your vagina and into the uterus through the cervix.
D&C (dilation and curettage): The cervix is widened and a sharp tool is used to scrape the walls of the uterus. The tissue scrapings are checked for cancer cells.
If you have cancer, you may have other tests to see if the cancer has spread to other parts of your body. Tests you may have include:
CT scan, which uses X-rays and a computer to show detailed pictures of the uterus
How is it treated?
The treatment depends on the type of cancer cells and if the cancer has spread. If the cancer is diagnosed early, the uterus is usually removed. The ovaries, fallopian tubes (tubes from the ovaries to the uterus), part of the vagina, and some lymph nodes may also be removed. You and your healthcare provider will discuss possible treatments. You may also talk with a surgeon and a cancer specialist. Some things to think about when making treatment decisions are:
Your overall health
The stage of the cancer (how advanced the cancer is)
Whether the cancer has spread to other parts of your body
Other treatments are:
Chemotherapy (anticancer drugs), which uses medicine to kill cancer cells
Radiation therapy, which uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells
Hormone therapy, which uses medicine to stop hormones in your body from helping tumors grow
Your treatment will also include:
Controlling pain or other symptoms you may have
Controlling the side effects from treatments
Helping you manage your life with cancer
If your uterus is removed, you will no longer be able to get pregnant. If the cancer is at a very early stage and you still want to get pregnant, it may be possible to treat the cancer with the hormone progesterone instead of with removal of the uterus.
Often, more than 1 type of treatment is used. With early treatment, there is a good chance of cure. After treatment, you will need to have regular follow-up visits with your healthcare provider. Talk to your provider about what hormones you should take.
Ask your healthcare provider about clinical trials that might be available to you. Clinical trials are research studies to find effective cancer treatments. Itâ€™s always your choice whether you take part in one or not.
How can I take care of myself?
If you have been diagnosed with cancer of the uterus:
Talk about your cancer and treatment options with your healthcare provider. Make sure you understand your choices.
Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your healthcare provider.
Report abnormal vaginal bleeding right away to your healthcare provider.
Have an annual pelvic exam.
If you have diabetes, keep it under control.
Ask your healthcare provider:
How and when you will hear your test results
How long it will take to recover
What activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
How to take care of yourself at home
What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them
Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup.
Other things that may help include:
Eat a healthy diet and get regular exercise as recommended by your healthcare provider. Keep a healthy weight.
Get plenty of rest.
Try to reduce stress and take time for activities that you enjoy. It may help to talk with a counselor about your illness.
Talk with your family and your healthcare providers about your concerns. Ask your healthcare provider any questions you have about the disease, treatments, side effects of the treatments, sexuality, support groups, and anything else that concerns you.
If you smoke, try to quit.
Ask your provider if you need to avoid drinking alcohol. It may interfere with medicines you are taking. Alcohol can also make it harder for white blood cells to fight infections.
Tell your provider if your treatment causes discomfort. Usually there are ways to help you be more comfortable.
How can I help prevent the cancer from spreading or coming back?
Complete the full course of surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy treatments ordered by your healthcare provider.
See your healthcare provider right away if you notice a return of any previous symptoms, or you develop new symptoms.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth. Last modified: 2014-02-20 Last reviewed: 2014-06-09
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Endometrial Cancer (Cancer of the Uterus): References
Lentz GM, et al. Comprehensive Gynecology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Mosby Elsevier; 2012. Accessed June 2, 2014.
Ramirez PT, Mundt AJ, Muggia FM. Cancers of the uterine body. In: DeVita VT, Hellman S, Rosenberg SA, eds. Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2011: 1345-1362.
Salani R, Backes FJ, Fung MF, Holschneider CH, Parker LP, Bristow RE, Goff BA. Posttreatment surveillance and diagnosis of recurrence in women with gynecologic malignancies: Society of Gynecologic Oncologists recommendations. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2011 Jun;204(6):466-78.
Wright JD, Barrena Medel NI, Sehouli J, Fujiwara K, Herzog TJ. Contemporary management of endometrial cancer. Lancet. 2012 Apr 7;379(9823):1352-60. Epub 2012 Mar 22.Katz V., G. Lentz, R. Lobo, D. Gershenson. Comprehensive Gynecology. 5th ed. Mosby Elsevier, 2007. Accessed on September 23, 2009 form http://www.mdconsult.com.
Schorge, J., J. Schaeffer, L. Hoalvorson, B. Hoffmen, K. Bradshaw, F. Cunningham. Williams Gynecology. 1st ed. The Mcgraw Hill Companies, Inc. 2008. Accessed March 21, 2011 from http://www.accessmedicine.com.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. ACOG practice bulletin, clinical management guidelines for obstetrician-gynecologists, number 65, August 2005: management of endometrial cancer. Obstet Gynecol. 2005 Aug;106(2):413-25.