Each year, nearly 50,000 American women are diagnosed with endometrial cancer, which can occur in the lining of your uterus. Here’s what you should know.
Nearly 500,000 American women develop cancer of the uterus, also called endometrial cancer. It typically occurs between the ages of 50 and 60. While endometrial cancer is relatively common, it also has high cure rates.
What is endometrial cancer?
The uterus is a hollow, pear-shaped organ in the pelvis where a fetus grows during pregnancy. DNA in the cells in the endometrium, the lining of the uterus, can develop mutations that trigger the cells to multiply out of control. These abnormal cells may form into a mass, or tumor.
Cancer cells then may invade nearby tissues and spread, or metastasize, to other parts of the body, threatening life.
What are the symptoms of endometrial cancer?
The major symptoms are pelvic pain, bleeding between periods, or vaginal bleeding after menopause.
What are the causes of endometrial cancer?
Doctors don't know what causes endometrial cancer, but there are recognized risk factors.
- The balance of estrogen and progesterone affects your endometrium. Your risk is higher if you have a disease or condition that increases estrogen. These include polycystic ovary syndrome, obesity, and diabetes.
- Taking hormones after menopause that contain estrogen but not progesterone increases your risk of endometrial cancer.
- A rare type of tumor that secretes estrogen in the uterus also can increase your risk of endometrial cancer.
- The more periods you have, the more exposure your endometrium has had to estrogen. So, if you began before age 12 or hit menopause later, you have a higher risk.
- Your risk increases after menopause.
- Taking the hormone therapy drug tamoxifen for breast cancer can increase the risk of developing endometrial cancer, though the benefits usually outweigh the risk.
- Lynch syndrome, also called hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer, increases your chance of colon and other cancers.
How is endometrial cancer diagnosed?
After your doctor discusses your symptoms, risk factors, and medical history, you will receive a physical and pelvic exam. If you need further diagnostic tests, your doctor will order a pelvic or transvaginal ultrasound to better visualize your uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes. The doctor may also take endometrial tissue samples or perform an endometrial biopsy.
How to lower your risk of endometrial cancer
Having at least one pregnancy lowers your risk. Other ways to lower your risk include:
- Combination HRT. Talk to your doctor about choosing a combination of estrogen with progestin if you opt for hormone replacement therapy (or HRT) to manage the symptoms of menopause.
- Birth control pills. Using oral contraceptives for at least one year may reduce endometrial cancer risk for several years even after you stop.
- Weight loss. Look for support to cut calories and increase your exercise so you can lose extra weight.
What are the kinds of endometrial cancer?
- Endometrioid adenocarcinoma. The endometrium contains glandular cells, where cancer is most likely to occur and is usually detected early. The cure rate for this kind of cancer is high.
- Serous adenocarcinoma. About 10 percent of uterine cancers fall into this group. They are more likely to spread to lymph nodes and other parts of your body.
- Adenosquamous carcinoma. This rare form combines adenocarcinoma and carcinoma of the squamous cells, which line the outer surface of the uterus.
- Carcinomasarcoma. Also rare, a carcinomasarcoma combines adenocarcinoma and sarcoma, posing a greater risk of spreading than more common cancers.
August 16, 2022
Janet O’Dell, RN