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What is endometrial cancer?
Endometrial cancer is cancer of the endometrium. The endometrium is the lining of a woman’s uterus. This is the most common form of uterine cancer.
Symptoms of endometrial cancer
The most common symptom of endometrial cancer is abnormal bleeding. Contact your doctor if you have:
- Menstrual bleeding that is heavier or longer lasting than usual, especially after age 40.
- Menstrual cycles that are shorter than 21 days.
- Post-menopause bleeding and/or vaginal discharge.
What causes endometrial cancer?
Endometrial cancer does not have an exact cause. Estrogen levels have been known to play a part.
How is endometrial cancer diagnosed?
Your doctor will do a pelvic exam. They also will review your symptoms and health history. To diagnose endometrial cancer, they will do one or more procedures.
- Endometrial biopsy is short and can be done in your doctor’s office. The doctor inserts a narrow tube into your uterus through the vagina. Then, they remove a small amount of tissue from your uterine wall. The tissue is tested in a lab for cancerous or precancerous cells.
- Dilation and curettage (D and C) takes about an hour. It is outpatient and requires some form of anesthesia. The procedure involves dilating (widening) your cervix (the opening of the uterus). The doctor inserts a thin tool to collect tissue. The tissue is tested in a lab for cancerous or precancerous cells.
- Imaging tests can help diagnose cancer. Examples include an ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and computed tomography (CT) scan. These tests are less invasive and are safe for people who cannot have anesthesia.
Talk to your doctor about which procedure is right for you. Tell them if you have health problems, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or other types of cancer.
If you are diagnosed with endometrial cancer, your doctor will do more testing to decide the stage and grade.
Can endometrial cancer be prevented or avoided?
You cannot prevent or avoid endometrial cancer. It is most common in women who are older than 50 years of age or have gone through menopause. A high estrogen level can increase your risk. Obesity, diabetes, or high blood pressure can affect this. Women who use hormone replacement therapy (HRT) should be careful. If you take estrogen, make sure you supplement it with progestin as well.
Other risk factors include:
- an early first period (before 12 years of age)
- irregular periods
- never being pregnant
- endometrial polyps
- polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- use of a medicine called tamoxifen.
Women who use birth control pills that contain both estrogen and progestin during their childbearing years may lower their risk of endometrial cancer.
Endometrial cancer treatment
Treatment often involves a hysterectomy to remove your uterus. You may need your fallopian tubes and ovaries removed as well. If your estrogen level is high, you should take progestin to balance it out. You may need radiation therapy or chemotherapy. This will depend on the stage and grade of your cancer.
Living with endometrial cancer
Women who have endometrial cancer can live a long life. Treatment is very effective, especially if the cancer is found early. If it is found late or left untreated, it can spread outside the uterus.
Questions to ask your doctor
- If I have endometrial cancer, is there a risk that my daughter(s) could have it too?
- What are the side effects of a hysterectomy and taking hormones?
- How long does treatment take?
- If I have risk factors, such as taking tamoxifen for breast cancer, should I get screened or tested for endometrial cancer?
- Are there any support groups that you recommend?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.