What is uterine cancer?

Understanding Uterine Cancer

Also known as endometrial cancer, uterine cancer is a condition that begins in a woman’s uterus. The uterus is a hollow, pear-shaped organ, and it's where a fetus grows and develops during pregnancy.

Though there are other types of cancer that can form in the uterus, such as uterine sarcoma, endometrial cancer is by far the most common, with over 54,000 new cases being diagnosed each year in the United States. It is predicted that over 10,000 women will die from uterine cancer in 2015.

Uterine Cancer Signs

The symptoms that may indicate uterine cancer include:

  • Bleeding between periods or after menopause
  • Pain in the pelvis
  • Pain during intercourse
  • Abnormal, bloody, or watery discharge from your vagina

If you are experiencing any worrisome signs or symptoms, see your doctor as soon as possible.

Uterine Cancer Causes and Risk Factors

Though it is not known exactly what causes uterine cancer, there are some factors that can increase your risk. These include:

  • Older age: Since the majority of uterine cancers occur in women who have already gone through menopause, your risk will naturally increase as you get older.
  • Hormone therapy: If you have to take the drug tamoxifen for hormone therapy during treatment for breast cancer, this will increase your risk for uterine cancer. However, for most women, the benefits of tamoxifen will outweigh the risks.
  • Hereditary colon cancer syndrome: HNPCC (hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer) is an inherited syndrome that increases your risk for colon cancer as well as other cancers, including uterine cancer. If you have been diagnosed with HNPCC, there are cancer screening tests your doctor may recommend.
  • Hormone changes: Estrogen and progesterone are two important hormones that are secreted by your ovaries. If the balance between these hormones is disrupted for any reason, this can cause changes in your endometrium. This can happen for a number of reasons including irregular ovulation patterns, diabetes, and taking hormones after menopause.
  • Obesity: Because excess body fat will alter your body’s hormone balance, being obese will increase your risk for uterine cancer.
  • Never having been pregnant: If you have had at least one pregnancy, your risk for uterine cancer is lower than women who have never been pregnant.
  • More years of menstruation: If you started menstruation at a very early age (before 12), or if you begin menopause later than normal, this will also increase your risk for uterine cancer.

Uterine Cancer Treatments

Determining your treatment plan for uterine cancer will depend on the type of uterine cancer and its stage, as well as your overall health and your personal preferences. There are many different treatment options for this type of cancer, including surgery, radiation, hormone therapy, and chemotherapy.

Surgery is the most recommended treatment since it is usually the most effective. This procedure will generally include a hysterectomy (removal of the uterus), a salpingo-oophorectomy (removal of the fallopian tubes and ovaries), and possibly removal of some nearby lymph nodes for testing to determine your cancer’s stage.  

Last Updated: April 04, 2016