Endometrial cancer forms in the lining of the uterus called the endometrium. Because of this, endometrial cancer is sometimes referred to as uterine cancer.
In the United States, endometrial carcinoma is the most frequently diagnosed gynecologic cancer. Cancer of the endometrium is different from cancer of the muscle of the uterus, which is called sarcoma of the uterus. Uterine sarcoma is less common. Treating endometrial cancer usually involves a combination of surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Options may also include clinical trials.
Who is at Risk for Developing Endometrial Cancer?
It’s important to remember that risk factors do not guarantee that you will get cancer. They only increase your likelihood of developing a particular type of cancer.
As with most cancers, one of the primary risk factors is age. The chance of a woman receiving an endometrial cancer diagnosis increases as she gets older. However, there are other risk factors that make women more likely to develop this type of cancer, including:
Taking estrogen-only hormone replacement therapy (HRT) after menopause
Taking tamoxifen to prevent or treat breast cancer
Having type 2 diabetes
Having polycystic ovarian syndrome
Having endometrial hyperplasia
Having certain genetic conditions, such as Lynch syndrome
- Exposure of endometrial tissue to estrogen made by the body, which may be caused by:
Never giving birth
Starting menstruation at an early age
Starting menopause at a later age
Having a family history of endometrial cancer in a first-degree relative (mother, sister, or daughter with the same diagnosis)
Can You Be Screened for Endometrial Cancer?
There is no standard screening test for endometrial cancer, although several are being studied in clinical trials. The PAP test is designed to detect cervical cancer, which is different from endometrial cancer, and currently isn’t approved to help women detect endometrial cancer earlier than symptoms appear.
If you’re at a higher risk for endometrial cancer, talk to your gynecologist about your pelvic exam schedule and be sure you discuss anything out of the ordinary with your menstruation or pain in the pelvic area. Remember, the earlier you address a concern such as this, the easier it is to treat. And that usually leads to better outcomes.
What are the Symptoms of Endometrial Cancer?
About 90% of women with endometrial (uterine) cancer have abnormal vaginal bleeding, ranging from a watery and blood-streaked flow to a flow that contains more blood. Heavy bleeding between periods might be experienced by women in their late 30s and early 40s. Women who are going through or who have gone through menopause can also experience abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge.
Other signs and symptoms of endometrial cancer can include:
- Difficult or painful urination
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Pain in the pelvic area
- Unexplained weight loss
It’s important to be aware of any pain or bleeding that is out of the ordinary and discuss this with your gynecologist or another healthcare provider. The symptoms of endometrial cancer are similar to symptoms of several non-cancerous conditions. Whether it’s cancer or something else, it’s important that you don’t wait too long to see a doctor. Treatments can be more effective when given sooner, especially for cancer. Make an appointment with your gynecologist if you experience any persistent signs or symptoms that worry you.