Uterine (Endometrial) Cancer

What is uterine cancer?

Each year, more than 60,000 women are diagnosed with uterine cancer in the United States. This type of cancer forms in the tissues of the uterus.

Two types of uterine cancer are:

  • Endometrial cancer: This disease begins in the cells lining the uterus and is linked to estrogen production. It’s the most common type of uterine cancer, and it is usually diagnosed late in life. A small percentage of women may develop this cancer in their 40s.
  • Uterine sarcoma: This disease begins in the muscle or other tissues of the uterus.

The terms “uterine cancer” and “endometrial cancer” often are used interchangeably, but it’s important to note that cancers may develop from various tissues of the uterus. These conditions include endometrial and cervical cancers, sarcoma of the myometrium, and trophoblastic disease.

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Symptoms of uterine cancer

As with other types of gynecologic cancer, uterine cancer symptoms are similar to other gynecological conditions. Symptoms of uterine cancer include:

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding, spotting, or discharge
  • General pain in the pelvic area
  • Pain during sex
  • Pain or difficulty when urinating

If you have any of these symptoms, schedule an appointment with your doctor. The doctor can determine whether your symptoms indicate uterine cancer or a digestive or gynecological condition.

Risk factors for uterine cancer

Many uterine cancer patients do not have risk factors that point specifically to uterine cancer. That said, these risk factors can put you at increased risk for developing cancer:

  • Being obese or excessively overweight
  • Getting your first menstrual period before age 12
  • Going through menopause after age 55
  • Having an abnormal increase in the cells that line the uterus (endometrial hyperplasia)
  • Having a family history of uterine cancer or an inherited form of colorectal cancer known as Lynch syndrome
  • Having radiation in the pelvic area
  • Never giving birth
  • Taking just estrogen for menopausal hormone therapy for many years
  • Taking tamoxifen to prevent or treat breast cancer

Visit your doctor regularly to discuss your gynecological health and risk factors for uterine cancer. Early diagnosis is key to successful treatment -- early stage cancer is easiest and most effective to treat.

Treatment for uterine cancer

Treatment for uterine cancer depends on the stage at which it was diagnosed. The stages of uterine cancer are:

  • Stage I: Cancer is in the uterus only.
  • Stage II: Cancer is in the uterus and in the connective tissue of the cervix.
  • Stage III: Cancer has spread beyond the uterus to the surrounding pelvic area.
  • Stage IV: Cancer has spread to the surface of the bladder or rectum, or to the lymph nodes or distant areas of the body, such as the bones or lungs.

Treatment typically includes surgery and radiation therapy. In some cases, we recommend chemotherapy, or a combination of treatments. We use minimally-invasive surgery, such as Da Vinci technology. This robot-assisted surgery allows most patients to leave the hospital the next day with a shorter recovery time -- typically three weeks -- which is half that of a normal surgery. We’ll also help you manage lymphedema, which is swelling that sometimes occurs when lymph nodes are removed. This procedure often is used for breast cancer treatment.

Every case of uterine cancer is reviewed by a team of specialists, including oncologists, pathologists, nurses, and genetic counselors. Our team meets weekly at an internal tumor board to figure out the best treatment plans for each patient. Your doctor will work with you to determine a personalized plan based on the stage of your cancer and type of uterine cancer.

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