What is endometrial cancer?
Endometrial cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the uterus. The uterus is the hollow, pear-shaped pelvic organ in women where fetal development occurs.
Endometrial cancer begins in the layer of cells that form the lining (endometrium) of the uterus. Endometrial cancer is sometimes called uterine cancer. Other types of cancer can form in the uterus, including uterine sarcoma, but they are much less common than endometrial cancer.
Endometrial cancer is often detected at an early stage because it frequently produces abnormal vaginal bleeding, which prompts women to see their doctors. If endometrial cancer is discovered early, removing the uterus surgically often cures endometrial cancer.
How common is endometrial cancer?
Endometrial cancer affects mainly postmenopausal women. The average age of women diagnosed with endometrial cancer is 60. It is uncommon in women under the age of 45.
This cancer is slightly more common in white women, but black women are more likely to die from it. There are more than 600,000 survivors of endometrial cancer. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of endometrial cancer?
The common symptoms of endometrial cancer are:
- Vaginal bleeding after menopause
- Bleeding between periods
- An abnormal, watery or blood-tinged discharge from your vagina
- Pelvic pain
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
What causes endometrial cancer?
Doctors don’t know what causes endometrial cancer. What’s known is that something occurs to create a genetic mutation within cells in the endometrium — the lining of the uterus.
The genetic mutation turns normal, healthy cells into abnormal cells. Healthy cells grow and multiply at a set rate, eventually dying at a set time. Abnormal cells grow and multiply out of control, and they don’t die at a set time. The accumulating abnormal cells form a mass (tumor). Cancer cells invade nearby tissues and can separate from an initial tumor to spread elsewhere in the body (metastasize).
What increases my risk for endometrial cancer?
There are many risk factors for endometrial cancer, such as:
- Things that affect hormone levels, like taking estrogen after menopause, birth control pills, or tamoxifen; the number of menstrual cycles (over a lifetime), pregnancy, obesity, certain ovarian tumors, and polycystic ovarian syndrome
- Use of an intrauterine device
- Diet and exercise
- Family history (having close relatives with endometrial or colorectal cancer)
- Having been diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer in the past
- Having been diagnosed with endometrial hyperplasia in the past
- Treatment with radiation therapy to the pelvis to treat another cancer
Some of these, like pregnancy, birth control pills, and the use of an intrauterine device are linked to a lower risk of endometrial cancer, while many are linked to a higher risk. These factors and how they affect endometrial cancer risk are discussed in more detail below.
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is endometrial cancer diagnosed?
Tests and procedures used to diagnose endometrial cancer include:
- Pelvic examination. During a pelvic exam, your doctor carefully inspects the outer portion of your genitals (vulva), and then inserts two fingers of one hand into your vagina and simultaneously presses the other hand on your abdomen to feel your uterus and ovaries. He or she also inserts a device called a speculum into your vagina. The speculum opens your vagina so that your doctor can view your vagina and cervix for abnormalities.
- Using sound waves to create a picture of your uterus. Your doctor may recommend a transvaginal ultrasound to look at the thickness and texture of the endometrium and help rule out other conditions. In this procedure, a wandlike device (transducer) is inserted into your vagina. The transducer uses sound waves to create a video image of your uterus. This test helps your doctor look for abnormalities in your uterine lining.
- Using a scope to examine your endometrium. During a hysteroscopy, your doctor inserts a thin, flexible, lighted tube (hysteroscope) through your vagina and cervix into your uterus. A lens on the hysteroscope allows your doctor to examine the inside of your uterus and the endometrium.
- Removing a sample of tissue for testing. To get a sample of cells from inside your uterus, you’ll likely undergo an endometrial biopsy. This involves removing tissue from your uterine lining for laboratory analysis. Endometrial biopsy may be done in your doctor’s office and usually doesn’t require anesthesia.
- Performing surgery to remove tissue for testing. If enough tissue can’t be obtained during a biopsy or if the biopsy results are unclear, you’ll likely need to undergo a procedure called dilation and curettage (D&C). During D&C, tissue is scraped from the lining of your uterus and examined under a microscope for cancer cells.
If endometrial cancer is found, you’ll likely be referred to a doctor who specializes in treating cancers involving the female reproductive system (gynecologic oncologist).
How is endometrial cancer treated?
Surgery to remove the uterus is recommended for most women with endometrial cancer. Most women with endometrial cancer undergo a procedure to remove the uterus (hysterectomy), as well as to remove the fallopian tubes and ovaries (salpingo-oophorectomy). A hysterectomy makes it impossible for you to have children in the future. Also, once your ovaries are removed, you’ll experience menopause, if you haven’t already.
During surgery, your surgeon will also inspect the areas around your uterus to look for signs that cancer has spread. Your surgeon may also remove lymph nodes for testing. This helps determine your cancer’s stage.
Radiation therapy uses powerful energy beams, such as X-rays and protons, to kill cancer cells. In some instances, your doctor may recommend radiation to reduce your risk of a cancer recurrence after surgery. In certain situations, radiation therapy may also be recommended before surgery, to shrink a tumor and make it easier to remove.
If you aren’t healthy enough to undergo surgery, you may opt for radiation therapy only. In women with advanced endometrial cancer, radiation therapy may help control cancer-related pain.
Radiation therapy can involve:
- Radiation from a machine outside your body. During external beam radiation, you lie on a table while a machine directs radiation to specific points on your body.
- Radiation placed inside your body. Internal radiation (brachytherapy) involves placing a radiation-filled device, such as small seeds, wires or a cylinder, inside your vagina for a short period of time.
Hormone therapy involves taking medications that affect hormone levels in the body. Hormone therapy may be an option if you have advanced endometrial cancer that has spread beyond the uterus.
- Medications to increase the amount of progesterone in your body. Synthetic progestin, a form of the hormone progesterone, may help stop endometrial cancer cells from growing.
- Medications to reduce the amount of estrogen in your body. Hormone therapy drugs can help lower the levels of estrogen in your body or make it difficult for your body to use the available estrogen. Endometrial cancer cells that rely on estrogen to help them grow may die in response to these medications.
Chemotherapy uses chemicals to kill cancer cells. You may receive one chemotherapy drug, or two or more drugs can be used in combination. You may receive chemotherapy drugs by pill (orally) or through your veins (intravenously). Chemotherapy may be recommended for women with advanced or recurrent endometrial cancer that has spread beyond the uterus. These drugs enter your bloodstream and then travel through your body, killing cancer cells.
Supportive (palliative) care
Palliative care is specialized medical care that focuses on providing relief from pain and other symptoms of a serious illness. Palliative care specialists work with you, your family and your other doctors to provide an extra layer of support that complements your ongoing care. Palliative care can be used while undergoing other aggressive treatments, such as surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
When palliative care is used along with all of the other appropriate treatments, people with cancer may feel better and live longer.
Palliative care is provided by a team of doctors, nurses and other specially trained professionals. Palliative care teams aim to improve the quality of life for people with cancer and their families. This form of care is offered alongside curative or other treatments you may be receiving.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage endometrial cancer?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with endometrial cancer:
- Find out enough about endometrial cancer to make decisions about your care. Find out enough about your cancer so that you feel comfortable about making treatment choices. Ask your doctor about the stage, your treatment options and their side effects. In addition to talking with your doctor, look for information in your local library and on the internet. Good sources of information include the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society.
- Maintain a strong support system. Strong relationships may help you cope with treatment. Talk with close friends and family members about how you’re feeling. Connect with other cancer survivors through support groups in your community or online. Ask your doctor about support groups in your area.
- Stay involved in your usual activities when you can. When you’re feeling up to it, try to stay involved in your usual activities.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Endometrial cancer. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/endometrial-cancer/home/ovc-20205704. Accessed August 3, 2017.
Endometrial Cancer Risk Factors. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/endometrial-cancer/causes-risks-prevention/risk-factors.html. Accessed August 3, 2017.
Key Statistics for Endometrial Cancer? https://www.cancer.org/cancer/endometrial-cancer/about/key-statistics.html. Accessed August 3, 2017.
Review Date: August 2, 2017 | Last Modified: August 4, 2017