The uterus is a hollow, pear-shaped, small organ that is a part of the female reproductive system. The uterus is lined with a tissue called the endometrium. It tends to shed every month during the menstrual cycle. This is because it grows into a thick, blood-rich tissue layer that helps provide blood, oxygen and nutrition to the embryo and fetus.
The cancer that occurs in the cells of the endometrial is called as endometrial cancer. This cancer is also called as womb or uterine cancer, but there other tissues of the uterus that can suffer from cancer. Endometrial cancer is one of the 6th common gynecologic cancers and 12th most common of all cancers . This cancer is also the third most common gynecologic cancers that leads to death. It is common in women over the age of 50. However, on the bright side, this cancer is often detected in the early stages and thus, easily cured before it’s too late.
Types of Endometrial Cancer
The endometrial cancer is divided as carcinoma and sarcoma.
Carcinoma:Endometrial cancers that originate from the epithelial cells of the endometrium are called as carcinomas. This cancer is further divided into many subtypes, but broadly classified as type I and type II.
Sarcoma: These cancers originate in the non-glandular connective tissues of the endometrium. The endometrial stromal cancers are not as common as endometrial carcinomas.
Uterine Carcinosarcoma:This is a very rare form of endometrial cancer where the cancerous cells are both glandular and sarcomatous in appearance.
Symptoms of Endometrial Cancer
Symptoms of endometrial cancer are the main cause of early diagnosis of this cancer. These symptoms include:
- Unusual vaginal bleeding
- Bleeding in between periods
- Bleeding after menopause
- Heavy bleeding, more flow than usual
- Bloody and watery vaginal discharge
- Painful intercourse
- Pelvic pain
- Unexplained weight gain
- Urinary incontinence
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Anemia, due to heavy bleeding
The unusual vaginal bleeding is the main cause women go to the doctor for treatment. It is at this time endometrial cancer is detected early on and many lives are saved on time.
What Causes Endometrial Cancer?
The exact cause of endometrial cancer is not known. The only thing experts have found is that something causes genetic mutation within the cells. This leads to normal cells turning abnormal and growing out of control. Thus, leading to a tumor and certain cells become cancerous and start invading the nearby tissues.
Risk Factors for Endometrial Cancer
There are certain risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing endometrial cancer. These include:
- Endometrial hyperplasia
- High levels of estrogen
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome
- Early onset of menstruation
- Late menopause
- Endometrial polyps
- Lack of exercise
- Heavy exercises
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Women who have not got pregnant or are unable to have children
- Use of tamoxifen drug to treat breast cancer
Diagnosis of Endometrial Cancer
The doctor may conduct a pelvic examination and press on the stomach at the same time. Blood tests and urine tests may also be ordered for further tests. Other tests include:
- Transvaginal ultrasound
- Biopsy like aspiration biopsy, hysteroscopy or dilation and curettage
Treatment of Endometrial Cancer
The treatment depends on the type, stage, overall health, and spread of cancer. Some of the treatment methods include:
- Surgery to remove the uterus to help get rid of cancer. Depending on the spread of cancer, the doctor may decide to do a hysterectomy (removal of uterus) or salpingo-oophorectomy (removal of the Fallopian tubes and ovaries along with uterus).
- Chemotherapy and Radiation to kill cancer cells
- Hormone Therapy in case the cancer has spread beyond the uterus. These medications include those that help increase progesterone and estrogen.
The 5-year survival rate of endometrial cancer is about 69%. When diagnosed at an early stage, the survival rates are as high as 91%. Thus, the sooner the cancer is detected, the survival rate is better.
One can prevent endometrial cancer by eating a healthy diet and maintaining their body weight. Make sure you take doctors advice when before you take birth control pills or undergo a hormone therapy. Getting pregnant is also one way to prevent uterine cancer. Get yourself treated, if you are diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome or complex atypical endometrial hyperplasia.
If one feels there are any changes in their menstrual cycle or blood flow, they should get themselves checked. Early detection will help prevent the spread of endometrial cancer. Ask any questions you have in your mind regarding the condition to your doctor. It is the best way to prepare oneself for the treatment and management of endometrial cancer.
Written by: Saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: March 15, 2015