Overview of uterine cancer
Uterine cancer is a malignant tumor in a woman’s uterus. In the U.S., uterine cancer is the most common female reproductive system cancer, also called gynecological cancer.
At Dignity Health, we specialize in providing personalized treatment for this type of gynecological cancer. Find a Doctor near you for uterine cancer diagnosis and treatment.
The most common sign of uterine cancer is abnormal vaginal bleeding. This includes changes in your menstrual periods, spotting between periods, and bleeding after menopause. This symptom occurs in about 90 percent of women at the time of diagnosis.
Other signs of uterine cancer include:
- Abnormal vaginal discharge
- Difficulty urinating or pain with urination
- Painful sex
- Pelvic pain
- A mass in the vagina
- A feeling of fullness or pressure in the abdomen
Any of these symptoms may instead be due to a noncancerous condition. See a Dignity Health doctor as soon as possible for diagnosis. If it is cancer, early detection offers the highest chance for a cure.
Scientists do not exactly know what causes cancer, including uterine cancer. However, certain risk factors increase the likelihood of developing it. Many of these risk factors relate to hormone levels. For instance, women who take or have taken estrogen without progesterone have a higher risk of uterine cancer.
The uterus is a pear-shaped organ consisting of a narrow lower portion (called the cervix), a middle section (isthmus), and a top section (fundus). The interior lining of the uterus has layers of cells (endometrium) and encasing muscle tissue (myometrium).
Uterine cancer can begin in any of these structures and can be classified by the area, type of cell growth, and stage of growth.
More than 80 percent of uterine cancers are adenocarcinomas that start in the lining (endometrium) of the uterus. Uterine sarcoma is a less common type of uterine cancer that develops in the muscular part of the uterus. It is more difficult to cure than endometrial cancer.
Cancers are also given a “stage” to measure how much they have spread. Stage I uterine cancer is growing only in the uterus itself, while by stage IV, the cancer has spread to lymph nodes and/or other organs throughout the body. In general, the earlier a cancer is identified, the easier it will be to treat.
Common risk factors include:
- Age 50 and older
- Caucasian race
- Diet high in animal fat
- Early menstruation (younger than 12) or late menopause (older than 55)
- Family history of endometrial (uterine) or colorectal cancer
- Personal history of breast, ovarian, or colon cancer
- Personal history of endometrial hyperplasia, diabetes, or pelvic radiation therapy
- Use of tamoxifen (a breast cancer medication)
There is no sure way to prevent uterine cancer. General prevention strategies involve lowering risk factors under your control. This includes things like:
- Eating a healthy diet
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Treating other medical conditions, such as diabetes
- Not smoking
- Speaking with your doctor about your risk before beginning hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for menopause or other conditions
- Attending regular physical examinations and OBGYN appointments
Other factors that can decrease your risk include:
- Birth control pill use
- IUD (intrauterine device) use
The information contained in this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace advice from your healthcare provider.