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Endometrial (uterine) cancer

Cancers of the uterus most often appear in the endometrium, the inner lining of the uterus. This is called endometrial cancer. Cancers that begin in the muscle cells or supporting connective tissue of the uterus are called uterine sarcomas. Uterine sarcoma is much less common than endometrial cancer.

Common causes and risk factors

Although extensive research is being conducted on endometrial cancer, doctors still do not know what causes uterine cancer.  However, hormonal imbalance is a risk factor for developing endometrial cancer. Before menopause, ovaries produce two main hormones – estrogen and progesterone. Shifts in the balance between these two hormones can cause changes in the endometrium and increase your chance of developing endometrial cancer.

Symptoms

These symptoms may also be caused by other, less serious conditions, so it is important to talk to your doctor if you experience any of them:

  • Pelvic pain
  • Mass in pelvic area
  • Unusual vaginal bleeding or discharge

Diagnosis

Screening for endometrial cancer is fairly rare. Therefore, diagnosis usually occurs after a woman visits her doctors, because she is displaying symptoms. If your doctor believes you may have endometrial cancer, the doctor will perform a pelvic exam and a general physical exam. Your doctor will direct you to see your gynecologist or another specialist.

The following tests may be conducted to determine if cancer is present:

  • Biopsy
  • Dilation and Curettage – The cervix is enlarged and a special instrument is inserted and collects tissue from inside the uterus.
  • Hysteroscopy – the doctor will insert a small telescope through the cervix and into the uterus. The uterus is filled with a saline solution (salt water) to allow the doctor a better view of the uterus. The doctor is able to biopsy anything abnormal during this technique.
  • Image testing such as an ultrasound, MRI and PET
  • Blood tests

Treatment

Your cancer care team will discuss your treatment options once you have been diagnosed. Surgery is the most common type of treatment for uterine cancer, but other treatments may be used as well.

Surgery to remove all of the cancer. This may include the uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries or part of the vagina.

Chemotherapy uses medicines to destroy cancer cells. You may receive it by mouth or through your veins.

Radiation therapy uses high-dose X-rays to destroy cancerous cells.

Hormonal therapy can block the hormones that cause the cancer cells to grow.

Prevention

While most cases of uterine cancer could not have been prevented, the following items are things you can do to possibly lower your risk.

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Consider taking oral contraceptives
  • Regular exercise