Definition

Uterine cancer is a disease in which cancer cells grow in the uterus. The walls of the uterus are made of 2 types of lining. The endometrium is the inner lining and the myometrium is the muscular, outer lining. The most common type of uterine cancer (adenocarcinoma) begins in the endometrium. Less common cancers called sarcomas, begin in the myometrium.

This fact sheet will focus on endometrial cancer.

Uterine Cancer

Uterine Cancer
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Causes

Cancer occurs when cells in the body divide without control or order. Normally, cells divide in a regulated manner. If cells keep dividing uncontrollably when new cells are not needed, a mass of tissue forms, called a growth or tumor. The term cancer refers to malignant growths. These growths can invade nearby tissues. Cancer that has invaded nearby tissues can then spread to other parts of the body.

Exposure to estrogen seems to be strongly related to the development of uterine cancer. It is not clear exactly what causes changes in the cells, but is probably a combination of genetics and environment.

Risk Factors

Uterine cancer is more common in women aged 50-60 years old. Other factors that may increase your chances of uterine cancer:

Symptoms

Uterine cancer may cause:

  • Abnormal bleeding between menstrual periods
  • Vaginal bleeding or spotting in postmenopausal women
  • Pain in the pelvic area
  • Pain during urination
  • Pain during intercourse

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A pelvic exam of the vagina, uterus, ovaries, bladder, and rectum will be done.

Your bodily fluids and tissues may be tested. This can be done with:

  • Blood tests
  • Ultrasound
  • Biopsy—tissue samples are examined under a microscope to look for the presence of cancer
  • Dilation and curettage (D&C)
  • Hysteroscopy—a lighted scope with a camera is used to examine the uterus
  • Pap test—presence of cancer may indicate it has spread beyond the uterus

The physical exam combined with all of your test results, will help to determine the stage of cancer you have. Staging is used to guide your treatment plan. Like other cancers, uterine cancer is staged from I-IV (1-4). Stage I is a very localized cancer, while stage IV indicates a spread to other parts of the body.

Treatment

Treatments for uterine cancer depend on the stage of the cancer. Options may include:

A hysterectomy may be done to remove the uterus. Other nearby structures, such as the fallopian tubes, ovaries, and lymph nodes may also need to be removed.

This is the use of radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation therapy may be:

  • External—radiation directed at the tumor from a source outside the body
  • Internal (brachytherapy)—radioactive materials are placed into the body near the cancer cells

Drugs may be used to control cancer cells outside the uterus. This treatment is for women unable to have surgery, or who have recurrent cancer, or cancer that has spread.

This is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy may be given as an injection, through a catheter, or by mouth. The drugs enter the bloodstream and travel through the body killing mostly cancer cells, but also some healthy cells. Chemotherapy may have limited benefit for treating uterine cancer.

Prevention

To help reduce your chances of uterine cancer:

  • Report any menstrual changes or abnormal bleeding to your doctor.
  • Lose excess weight and maintain a healthy weight.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • If you have diabetes, follow your treatment plan.
  • Talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of hormone-based birth control.