Endometrial cancer is a type of cancer which begins in the uterus. The uterus is a hollow, pear-shaped pelvic organ where the development of the fetus occurs.
This type of cancer begins in the layer of cells forming the lining of the uterus. It is also known as uterine cancer. Although other types of cancer might also form in the uterus, such as uterine sarcoma, they are generally much less common as compared to endometrial cancer.
Since it produces abnormal vaginal bleeding, endometrial cancer is usually detected early. If the cancer is discovered at an early stage, removing the uterus surgically can often cure cancer.
The signs and symptoms of this condition are:
- Vaginal bleeding after menopause
- Pelvic pain
- Bleeding between periods
Make an appointment with your doctor if you are experiencing any persistent signs or symptoms that look worrisome.
Causes & risk factors
Although the exact causes of endometrial cancer are still unknown, it is known that something occurs to create changes or mutations in the DNA of cells in the endometrium.
These mutations can turn normal, healthy cells into abnormal ones. Healthy cells grow and multiply at a set rate, and eventually die at a set time.
However, abnormal cells grow and multiply out of control, and they don’t die at a set time. These accumulating abnormal cells can form a mass or a tumor. Cancer cells invade nearby tissues and might also separate from an initial tumor to spread elsewhere in your body.
Certain factors that increase the risk of this condition are:
Changes in the balance of female hormones in the body- The ovaries are known to create two main female hormones — estrogen and progesterone. Fluctuations in the balance of these hormones may cause changes in the endometrium. There is a rare type of ovarian tumor that secretes estrogen, which also increases the risk of endometrial cancer.
More years of menstruation- Starting menstruation at an early age, or beginning menopause later may also increase your risk of having endometrial cancer. If you have had more periods, the endometrium has had more exposure to estrogen.
Obesity- Being obese might also increase your risk of endometrial cancer since excess body fat can alter your body’s balance of hormones.
Older age- As you get older, your risk of endometrial cancer might also increase.
Never having been pregnant- If you’ve never been pregnant, the risk of endometrial cancer is higher than someone who has had at least one pregnancy.
Hormone therapy for breast cancer- If you have taken hormone therapy for breast cancer, it might increase the risk of developing endometrial cancer.
An inherited colon cancer syndrome- Lynch syndrome, also called hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer is a syndrome known to increase the risk of colon cancer as well as other cancers, including endometrial cancer.
If you are showing symptoms of endometrial cancer, your doctor is going to examine you, and will likely ask you to undergo blood and urine tests. Some other possible tests include:
Pelvic Exam and Pap Smears, which are tests that look for cervical cancer, are able to find multiple endometrial cancers before symptoms develop.
Your doctor might also recommend a transvaginal ultrasound- In this procedure, your doctor is going to insert a wand-like instrument into the vagina. This instrument aims high-frequency sound waves at the uterus, and the pattern of echoes that are produced create a picture. Sometimes saltwater might also be placed into the uterus, through the cervix before the ultrasound so that a clearer picture is produced.
Your doctor might also perform a biopsy, which involves taking and testing a tissue sample from the uterus. If the diagnosis is confirmed, your doctor might also order exploratory surgery to determine how far your cancer has spread.
The stages of the cancer are indicated from the range I to IV. And the lowest stage indicates that your cancer hasn’t grown beyond the uterus. By stage IV, cancer has grown and has involved nearby organs as well, such as the bladder.
Surgery- Generally, the most common form of treatment for endometrial cancer, is an operation to remove the uterus, which is known as hysterectomy. It can also sometimes include removing the fallopian tubes and ovaries. However, it is notable that a hysterectomy makes pregnancy impossible for you in the future. During the surgery, your surgeon is also going to check for signs to see if your cancer has spread.
Chemotherapy- Chemotherapy uses chemicals for killing cancer cells. You might receive one chemotherapy drug or two or more in combination. These drugs might be given through a pill or through your veins. These drugs are able to enter the bloodstream and kill all cancer cells in the body. Chemotherapy is also recommended after surgery if there is an increased risk that your cancer might return.
Radiation Therapy- This method involves using powerful energy beams, such as X-rays and protons, to kill cancer cells. In some instances, your doctor might also recommend radiation to reduce your risk of a cancer recurrence after your surgery. However, if your health is not good enough for surgery, your doctor will recommend only radiation therapy.
Immunotherapy- Immunotherapy is a drug treatment that is able to help your body’s immune system to fight cancer. Generally, your body’s immune system might not attack the cancer cells since they produce a protein that blinds the immune system. Immunotherapy helps by interfering with that process.
Hormone Therapy- This method involves taking medications for lowering the hormone levels in your body. In response, the cancer cells relying on hormones, in order to help them grow might die. This method is considered if your endometrial cancer is at an advanced stage, and has also spread beyond the uterus.
Targeted Drug Therapy- Targeted drug treatment focuses on the specific weaknesses that are present within the cancer cells. When these weaknesses are blocked, the targeted drug treatments might cause the cancer cells to die. Targeted drug therapy is also combined with chemotherapy for treating advanced endometrial cancer.
Using oral contraceptives for at least one time a year might help reduce the risk of endometrial cancer. The risk reduction is believed to last for several years after you cease taking any oral contraceptives. However, it is noteworthy that oral contraceptives have few side effects, so it is best that you discuss the benefits and risks with your doctor.
Since obesity increases the risk of endometrial cancer, you can work on yourself to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.