What Is Uterine Cancer?
When healthy cells in the uterus, the pear-shaped organ in a woman’s pelvis, change and grow, forming a tumor, the tumor is either benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Uterine cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the uterus.
The most common kind of uterine cancer is adenocarcinoma, also called endometrial cancer, because it starts in the endometrium, or the uterus lining. The other common type of uterine cancer is called sarcoma, which develops in the supporting tissues of the uterus.
It’s not possible to predict who might develop uterine cancer. Some women may get uterine cancer without any of the risk factors, but there is some evidence that they may increase the risk of development. Those risk factors are:
- Age — People age 50 years and older are at higher risk of uterine cancer.
- Family history of uterine cancer
- History of infertility
- Use of estrogen without progesterone in hormone replacement therapy
The most common symptom of uterine cancer is usually vaginal bleeding outside of the normal course of menstruation. The bleeding may be watery and light, or heavier and more prolonged than a usual period. Bleeding after menopause should always be discussed with a gynecologist. There are other symptoms that might indicate the presence of uterine cancer. These include:
- Abnormal Pap test — Abnormal Pap tests indicate changes in the cells taken from the cervix. An abnormal Pap may be an indicator of the possibility of uterine or cervical cancer.
- Pain — Pain or difficulty during urination or sexual intercourse, or a pain in the pelvis or abdomen
- Pelvic pressure — Pressure felt in the pelvis or a feeling of bloating in the abdomen
Once diagnosed with uterine cancer, a doctor who specializes in cancer — called a gynecologic oncologist — can help determine which treatment, or combination of treatments, to offer. Current treatments for uterine cancer include:
- Chemotherapy — Drugs are used to kill cancer cells by cutting off their ability to grow and divide. The course of the treatment is given either in pill form or by IV.
- Hormone therapy — Uterine cancer cells that have receptors to hormones on them, generally adenocarcinomas that are grade 1 or 2 tumors, may respond to hormonal therapy. High doses of hormones like progesterone are given in pill form. Hormone therapy may be used for women who cannot have surgery or chemotherapy.
- Radiation — High-energy X-rays or other particles are used to destroy cancer cells. This therapy can be used before surgery to shrink a tumor as well as after surgery to destroy any remaining cancer cells.
- Surgery — The cancerous tumor and some surrounding healthy tissue, called a “margin,” is removed during an operation.
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