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Uterine and Endometrial Cancer 101

On this page you will learn about symptoms of uterine cancer, diagnosis, and treatment options. We hope this information will help you prepare for a discussion with your gynecologist or a Gynecologic Oncologist.

 

Cancer is a disease in which cells in the body grow out of control. Cancer is usually named for the part of the body where it starts, even if it spreads to other body parts later.

 

When cancer starts in the uterus, it is called uterine cancer. The uterus is the pear-shaped organ in the pelvis (between your hip bones). The uterus, also called the womb, is where the baby grows when a during pregnancy.

 

The most common type of uterine cancer is also called endometrial cancer because it forms in the lining of your uterus, called the endometrium.

 

Anyone with a uterus is at risk for uterine cancer, and the risk increases with age. Most uterine cancers are found in those who are going through or who have gone through menopause—the time of life when menstrual periods stop.

 

gynecologic system

Endometrial cancer is the most common gynecologic cancer and its incidence is rising.

 

The Foundation for Women's Cancer has brochures in English, Spanish, and Chinese to help you understand your cancer:

  • Endometrial Cancer: Your Guide Download 

  • Cáncer de Útero: Su Guía (Español) Download 

  • Endometrial Cancer: Your Guide (Chinese) Download 

Since the mid-2000's the number of individuals who that been diagnosed with uterine cancer has increased by about 1% every year. In 2021 alone, about 66,570 individuals will be diagnosed in the United States and 12,940 of those people will die from uterine cancer. In fact, from 2009 to 2018, uterine cancer deaths increased by about 2% each year.

Endometrial risk factors affect the balance between estrogen and progesterone in the body. This imbalance causes abnormal growth in the endometrium until it develops into cancer.

There is no standard or routine screening test for endometrial cancer, which is why you should listen to your body and follow up if you have any of the common signs and symptoms outlined below.

Uterine/Endometrial Cancer SYMPTOMS

The most common warning sign for any uterine cancer is abnormal vaginal bleeding.

 

Recognition of this symptom often affords an opportunity for early diagnosis and treatment. In postmenopausal people, any bleeding or spotting is abnormal and should prompt immediate evaluation by a gynecologist.

 

Premenopausal reproductive age people who do not have regular monthly periods or who have excessive duration and/or quantity of bleeding each month should also be evaluated by a gynecologist as these can be symptoms of uterine cancer.

Increasing pelvic pressure or abdominal girth, pelvic pain/fullness, increasing urinary frequency, or difficulty passing stool can sometimes be associated with an enlarging uterus. An enlarging uterus outside of pregnancy is often due to smooth muscle tumors and should prompt evaluation by a gynecologist. Most smooth muscle tumors of the uterus are benign fibroids, but rarely these can be a malignant sarcoma.

When a person experiences concerning symptoms, a pelvic exam, including a rectovaginal exam, and a general physical should be performed. When the physical exam is abnormal and in most cases of abnormal bleeding or postmenopausal bleeding a pelvic ultrasound and/or endometrial biopsy will be obtained.

 

Biopsy of the endometrium can be done in the office or by way of a D&C (dilation and curettage) procedure in the operating room.

If uterine cancer is suspected or diagnosed, it is important to seek care first from a gynecologic oncologist—medical doctors with specialized training in treating gynecologic cancers who can manage your care from diagnosis to completion of treatment. 

RISK FACTORS

  • Obesity - Excess body fat spikes estrogen levels in individuals and correlates to a higher cancer risk

  • Endometrial Hyperplasia - the lining of the uterus becomes abnormally thick

  • Age - Uterine cancer most often occurs in people over 50. The average age of those diagnosed with endometrial cancer is 60

  • Type 2 Diabates - Diabetes is more common in people who are overweight and less active, which are also a risk factor for endometrial cancer

  •  Early Menarche/ Puberty - Young women who start menstruating before 12

  • Late Menopause - Women who begin menopause after 53

  • Heredity - Those individuals with close relatives that have or had endometrial cancer have an  increased risk of contracting endometrial cancer

  • Lynch Syndrome - A type of inherited cancer syndrome associated with a genetic  predisposition to different cancer types and increased risk of developing endometrial (uterine) cancer 

  • Never Been Pregnant - those who have not given birth carry a two to three times higher risk of getting endometrial cancer

Uterine / Endometrial Cancer PREVENTION

Noticing your risk factors may help prevent and lower your chance of developing endometrial cancer. Here are some examples of things you can do to help lower your risks:

  • Get to a healthy weight and maintain that healthy weight because it lowers your risk of getting endometrial cancer. Women who are obese are more likely to get this type of cancer compared with those who have a healthy weight

 

  • Getting regular physical activity / exercise is linked to lower risks of endometrial cancer, plus it helps you maintain a healthy weight

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  • Discuss the pros and cons of hormone therapy with your doctor if you're thinking about using estrogen for symptoms related to menopause. How will that affect your risk of endometrial cancer?

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  • Get treated for endometrial problems such as pre-cancerous conditions like endometrial hyperplasia. Most endometrial cancers are known to develop from less serious changes in the endometrium

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  • Talk to your doctor if you have Lynch syndrome in your family as it has a very high risk of endometrial cancer.

pronounce gynecologic

DID YOU KNOW?

Obesity has a strong association with the development of endometrial cancer as compared to any other cancer type?

  • A survey of 1,545 healthy women showed that 58% are not aware that obesity increases your risk for developing endometrial cancer

  • 57% of endometrial cancers in the U.S. are thought to be attributed to being overweight and obese

  • A study done by the American Institute for Cancer Research found that when your BMI increases by 5 units, there is a 50% increase in the risk of developing endometrial cancer

Resources:

www.cdc.gov/cancer/uterine/basic_info/

Foundation for Women's Cancer - https://foundationforwomenscancer.org/gynecological-cancers/gynecologic-cancer-types/uterine-endometrial-cancer-gtd/

 

American Cancer Society. What is Endometrial Cancer? (2019, March 27). Retrieved March 30, 2021, from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/endometrial-cancer/about/what-is-endometrial-cancer.html

American Cancer Society. What is Uterine Sarcoma? (2017, November 13). Retrieved March 30, 2021, from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/uterine-sarcoma/about/what-is-uterine-sarcoma.html

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Basic Information About Uterine Cancer. (2019, August 09). Retrieved March 30, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/uterine/basic_info/index.htm

American Cancer Society. Can Endometrial Cancer be Prevented? (2019, March 2017). Retrieved March 30, 2021, from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/endometrial-cancer/causes-risks-prevention/prevention.html

American Society of Clinical Oncology. Uterine Cancer: Risk Factors and Prevention. (2020, September). Retrieved March 31, 2021, from https://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/uterine-cancer/risk-factors-and-prevention 

American Society of Clinical Oncology. Uterine Cancer: Statistics. (2021, February). Retrieved March 31, 2021, from https://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/uterine-cancer/statistics#:~:text=The%20number%20of%20people%20diagnosed%20with%20uterine%20cancer%20has%20increased,year%20since%20the%20mid%2D2000s.

Onstad, M. A., Schmandt, R. E., & Lu, K. H. (2016). Addressing the Role of Obesity in Endometrial Cancer Risk, Prevention, and Treatment. Journal of clinical oncology : official journal of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, 34(35), 4225–4230. https://doi.org/10.1200/JCO.2016.69.4638

Symptoms, Risk Factors, and Screening

If one or more of these symptoms or risk factors is true for you,

it does not mean you have or will necessarily get uterine cancer.

 

Please report all your symptoms and risk factors to a doctor, preferably a gynecologist.

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