Key Points about Uterine Cancer
- Uterine cancer most commonly occurs in women who have already gone through menopause, though it can occur in younger women.
- Treatment for uterine cancer typically includes surgery to remove the uterus, which is known as a hysterectomy.
- After undergoing a hysterectomy, a woman can no longer become pregnant.
Uterine cancer – also called endometrial cancer – is a type of cancer that affects the uterus. The uterus is the female reproductive organ where fetal development occurs.
Uterine cancer causes
Cancer occurs when some types of cells start to grow abnormally. These abnormal cells grow more quickly than healthy cells, leading to the formation of a mass. Experts don’t know exactly why abnormal cells start to develop in the uterus.
Uterine cancer risk factors
Factors that can increase your risk of developing uterine cancer include:
- Being obese
- Being older
- Having specific inherited colon cancer genes, including Lynch syndrome
- Having diabetes
- Having gone through menopause
- Having polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
- Having undergone hormone therapy for breast cancer
- Never having been pregnant
- Starting your menstrual cycle before age 12
- Taking hormones after menopause that contain only estrogen (and not progesterone)
Uterine cancer symptoms
Signs and symptoms of uterine cancer include:
- Bleeding between periods
- Pain in the pelvis
- Vaginal bleeding after having gone through menopause
Uterine cancer diagnosis
Your specialist may recommend one or more of the following tests to diagnose uterine cancer:
- Pelvic exam - your specialist will complete a pelvic exam to check for physical signs of uterine cancer.
- Ultrasound - your doctor may order this type of imaging test to get a closer look at the inside of your uterus and surrounding areas. If diagnosed, your specialist may order other types of imaging exams to determine the stage of your uterine cancer and help determine the best course of treatment
- Hysteroscopy - your specialist inserts a thin, lighted tube – called a hysteroscope – into your vagina and through your cervix to examine the inside of your uterus.
- Biopsy - your specialist removes a small tissue sample (biopsy) for close analysis in the lab.
Uterine cancer treatment
Your specialist may recommend one or more of the following treatment options for uterine cancer:
- Surgery - your specialist may recommend surgery to the uterus (hysterectomy), as well as the fallopian tubes and ovaries (salpingo-oophorectomy). Once these procedures have been performed, you will no longer be able to get pregnant.
- Radiation therapy - this treatment uses powerful energy beams – such as X-ray or protons – to kill cancer cells.
- Chemotherapy - this treatment involves using medications – either oral (by mouth) or intravenous (by vein) – to destroy cancer cells.
- Hormone therapy - in this treatment, you’ll take hormone medications that reduce hormone levels in the body. In turn, cancer cells will also die.
- Targeted drug therapy - this treatment uses certain specialized medications to destroy cancer cells.
When should I seek care?
If you experience any of these symptoms, start by voicing your concerns and symptoms to your primary care provider. From there, your doctor may suggest seeing an oncologist for more specialized treatment.