Definition

Uterine cancer is a disease in which cancer cells grow in the uterus. The walls of the uterus are made of 2 types of lining. The endometrium is the inner lining and the myometrium is the muscular, outer lining. The most common type of uterine cancer (adenocarcinoma) begins in the endometrium. Less common cancers, called sarcomas, begin in the myometrium.

This fact sheet will focus on endometrial cancer.

Uterine Cancer

Uterine Cancer

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Causes

Cancer occurs when cells in the body divide without control or order. Normally, cells divide in a regulated manner. If cells keep dividing uncontrollably when new cells are not needed, a mass of tissue forms, called a growth or tumor. The term cancer refers to malignant growths. These growths can invade nearby tissues. Cancer that has invaded nearby tissues can then spread to other parts of the body.

Exposure to estrogen seems to be strongly related to the development of endometrial cancer. It is not clear exactly what causes changes in the cells, but is probably a combination of genetics and environment.

Risk Factors

Endometrial cancer is more common in women aged 50-60 years old. Other factors that increase your chance of endometrial cancer include:

    
  • Obesity—especially in women experiencing menopause before age 45
  • High blood pressure
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome
  • Endometrial polyps
  • Infertility
  • No history of pregnancy
  • Early start of menstrual periods
  • Late menopause, which lengthens exposure to estrogen
  • Diabetes
  • Symptoms

    Endometrial cancer may cause:

        
  • Abnormal bleeding between menstrual periods
  • Vaginal bleeding or spotting in postmenopausal women
  • Pain in the pelvic area
  • Pain during urination
  • Pain during intercourse
  • Diagnosis

    The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A pelvic exam of the vagina, uterus, ovaries, bladder, and rectum will be done.

    Your bodily fluids and tissues may be tested. This can be done with:

        
  • Blood tests
  • Urine tests
  • Pap test
  • Biopsy
  • Dilation and curettage (D&C)
  • The physical exam combined with all of your test results, will help to determine the stage of cancer you have. Staging is used to guide your treatment plan. Like other cancers, endometrial cancer is staged from I-IV. Stage I is a very localized cancer, while stage IV indicates a spread to other parts of the body.

    Treatment

    Treatments for endometrial cancer depend on the stage of the cancer. Options may include:

    Surgery

    A hysterectomy may be done to remove the uterus. Other nearby structures, such as the fallopian tubes, ovaries, and lymph nodes may also need to be removed.

    Radiation Therapy

    This is the use of radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation may be:

        
  • External radiation therapy—radiation directed at the tumor from a source outside the body
  • Internal radiation therapy, called brachytherapy—radioactive materials placed into the body near the cancer cells
  • Hormone Therapy

    Drugs may be used to control cancer cells outside the uterus. This treatment is for women unable to have surgery, or who have recurrent cancer, or cancer that has spread.

    Chemotherapy

    This is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy may be given in many forms including: pill, injection, and through a catheter. The drugs enter the bloodstream and travel through the body killing mostly cancer cells, but also some healthy cells. Chemotherapy may have limited benefit for treating endometrial cancer.

    Prevention

    All women should have regular pelvic exams to monitor any changes that may signal cancer. Using birth control pills may protect against endometrial cancer.