Uterine or endometrial cancer is a form of cancer that originates in the uterus. The uterus is the organ in women where the fetal development occurs. The cancer starts in the layer of the cells that line the uterus. There are other types of cancer that can also start in the uterus like uterus sarcoma although these are not as common as uterine cancer. This form of cancer usually causes abnormal vaginal bleeding so it is detected early. If uterine cancer is discovered early, successful treatment can be achieved by surgically removing the uterus.
Signs and Symptoms
The most common symptom of uterine cancer is abnormal bleeding of the vagina after menopause. Some bleeding is expected if someone is having hormone therapy after menopause but it is severe or irregular, this may be a sign of endometrial cancer. Before the onset of menopause, abnormal bleeding is typically not a sign of uterine cancer. It is usually caused by other conditions like hormonal fluctuations.
Here are the symptoms of advanced uterine cancer:
- Moderate to severe pain in the pelvic area.
- A lump somewhere in the pelvic region.
- Unexplained weight loss.
The symptoms of uterine cancer are similar to other conditions like endometriosis.
Causes and Risk Factors
Experts are still not sure about the primary cause of endometrial cancer. All they know is that something occurs causing a genetic mutation in the endometrial cells. This causes normal cells to transform into abnormal cells that multiply out of control. The accumulation of the abnormal cells then causes the formation of a mass or tumour. The cancer cells can later on invade nearby tissues spreading to other parts of the body.
Factors which increases risk of uterine cancer:
- Abnormal levels of female hormone levels (estrogen and progesterone)
- Starting menstruation at an early age (before 12)
- Never having been pregnant
- As a woman gets older, the risk of uterine cancer increases
- Carrying excess weight (being overweight or obese)
- Breast cancer hormone therapy
- Inherited colon cancer syndrome
Types of Uterine Cancer
- Endometrial Cancer – This begins in the cells that line the uterus.
- Uterine Sarcoma – This is a rare form of cancer that begins in the muscle or other tissues of the uterus.
Tests and Diagnosis
The doctor starts with a medical history and physical examination which includes a pelvic exam. To confirm diagnosis of uterine cancer, a biopsy is needed wherein a small sample is taken for laboratory examination. There are other tests that can be done to diagnose uterine cancer like:
- Transvaginal Pelvic Ultrasound – Sound waves are used to create images of the uterus. This will show how thick the endometrium is which can be a sign of cancer in women after menopause. This can also show if the cancer has grown into the uterine muscle.
- Hysteroscopy – This procedure allows the doctor to see the inside of the uterus and obtain a tissue sample.
- Dilation And Curettage (D&C) – It is for getting a sample of tissue from inside the uterus. It can be performed at the same time as a hysteroscopy.
There are also tests for advanced stages of uterine cancer to check if the cancer has spread. This includes a CT scan, MRI, CBC, cancer antigen 125 test and chest X-ray.
Treatments and Medications
The treatment for uterine cancer depends on its characteristics including the stage and if it has spread. The overall health and preferences of the patient will also be taken into consideration.
- Surgery – For most women with endometrial cancer, the surgery for removing the uterus is recommended. The fallopian tubes and ovaries are also removed. The removal of the uterus makes it impossible for the patient to have children in the future. Also, removing the ovaries will cause the onset of menopause in patients who haven’t gone through the transition. Lymph nodes may also be removed for testing to help determine the stage of the cancer.
- Radiation Therapy – Powerful energy beams are used to destroy cancer cells. This is typically used after surgery to reduce risk of recurrence. It can also be done before surgery to shrink a tumor making it easier to remove.
- Hormone Therapy – this is usually for advanced endometrial cancer that has spread outside the uterus. It may include medications that increase progesterone level or those that reduce estrogen level in the body.
- Chemotherapy – Chemicals are used to kill cancer cells. One or a combination of two or more drugs can be used. The drugs can be taken orally or intravenously. This is recommended for women with advanced or recurrent uterine cancer that has spread outside the uterus. The drugs enter the bloodstream and travel throughout the body to kill cancer cells.
Must Watch – What Are The Risk Factors For Uterine Cancer?
Precaution and Self Care
Getting diagnosed with uterine cancer can be devastating so you need all the support you can get from your family and friends. You can also utilize cancer support groups that can help you cope with the disease. Of course, it is important to live a healthy lifestyle which includes a well-balanced diet rich in nutrients and getting regular exercise (after doctor approval).