Uterine cancer is the fourth most common cancer among women and the most common cancer of a woman's reproductive system.
There are two major types of uterine cancer:
Endometrial cancer (adenocarcinoma). Cancer that develops in the lining of the uterus, known as the endometrium; more than 95 percent of uterine cancers are endometrial cancer.
Sarcoma cancer. Cancer that develops in the uterine muscle (the myometrium) or in the supporting tissues of the uterine glands; sarcoma accounts for only about 2 to 4 percent of all uterine cancers.
What causes uterine cancer?
Uterine cancer occurs when cells in the uterus change and grow uncontrollably, forming a mass called a tumor.
The exact cause of uterine cancer is not yet known; however, the following factors may increase a woman's risk of developing the disease:
- Age. Uterine cancer most often occurs in postmenopausal women over age 50
- Race. White women are more likely to develop uterine cancer than black women
- Genetics. Uterine cancer may run in families where colon cancer is hereditary
- Other cancers or health conditions, including colon or ovarian cancer, endometrial hyperplasia, and insulin resistance or diabetes
- Radiation therapy
- Estrogen therapy
What are the symptoms of uterine cancer?
In some cases, women with uterine cancer do not have symptoms. If symptoms do occur, they may include:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding, spotting, or discharge
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Pain or pressure in the pelvic area
- Longer, heavier periods than normal
- Pain or difficulty when urinating
- Bleeding or spotting between menstrual cycles
- Postmenopausal bleeding
How is uterine cancer diagnosed?
Diagnosis may include:
- A thorough medical history and physical exam
- A pelvic exam and Pap test
- Imaging tests such as a transvaginal ultrasound, x-ray, or computed tomography (CT or CAT) scan to not only diagnose uterine cancer but determine if it has spread, or metastasized
- Endometrial biopsy or D&C (dilation and curettage) - a procedure to remove tissue samples from the lining of the uterus for examination under a microscope
How is uterine cancer treated?
Treatment depends on the individual patient and their cancer but typically involves a combination of therapies, including:
Surgery. To remove the cancerous tissue, typically a hysterectomy (removal of the uterus) as well as removal of the ovaries and lymph nodes near the tumor to determine if the cancer has spread.
Radiation. Uses high-energy x-rays to kill microscopic cancer cells that may remain after surgery.
Chemotherapy. The use of drugs, typically given intravenously (through a vein) to destroy cancer cells.
Hormone therapy. The use of progesterone, typically taken as a pill, to slow the growth of uterine cancer cells.