Endometrial Cancer: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis & Treatment
Endometrial cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the uterus. The uterus is the hollow, pear-shaped pelvic organ where fetal development occurs. It begins in the layer of cells that form the lining (endometrium) of the uterus and is also called uterine cancer.
Endometrial cancer is often detected at an early stage because it frequently produces abnormal v*ginal bleeding. When discovered early, removing the uterus would suffice as a cure.
Signs and symptoms of endometrial cancer may include:
- V*ginal bleeding after menopause
- Bleeding between periods
- Pelvic pain
Doctors are not exactly sure what causes endometrial cancer. What is known is that something occurs to create changes (mutations) in the DNA of cells in the endometrium which is the lining of the uterus.
The mutation turns normal, healthy cells into abnormal cells. Healthy cells grow and multiply at a set rate, eventually dying at a set time. Abnormal cells grow and multiply out of control, and they don’t die at a set time. Additionally, these accumulating abnormal cells form a mass (tumor). Cancer cells invade nearby tissues and can separate from an initial tumor to spread elsewhere in the body.
Factors that increase the risk of endometrial cancer include:
Changes in the balance of female hormones in the body.
The ovaries produce two main female hormones; estrogen and progesterone. However, fluctuations in the balance of these hormones cause changes in the endometrium.
A disease or condition that increases the amount of estrogen, but not the level of progesterone, in your body can increase the risk of endometrial cancer. For instance, irregular ovulation patterns, obesity, and diabetes increase the risk of this cancer. Also taking hormonal drugs after menopause that contain estrogen but not progesterone increases the risk of endometrial cancer.
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More years of menstruation
Starting menstruation at an early age before age 12 or beginning menopause later than normal increases the risk of endometrial cancer. The more periods you’ve had, the more exposed your endometrium is to estrogen.
If you’ve never been pregnant, you have a higher risk of endometrial cancer than someone who has had at least one pregnancy.
As you get older, your risk of endometrial cancer increases. Endometrial cancer occurs more often after menopause.
Being obese increases your risk of endometrial cancer. This may occur because excess body fat alters your body’s balance of hormones.
Hormone therapy for br*ast cancer
Taking the hormone therapy drug tamoxifen for br*ast cancer can increase the risk of developing endometrial cancer. If you’re taking tamoxifen, discuss this risk with your doctor.
An inherited colon cancer syndrome.
Lynch syndrome also increases the risk of endometrial cancer. Lynch syndrome is a gene mutation passed from parents to children. If a family member has Lynch syndrome, then discuss your risk of the genetic syndrome with your doctor.
A person who develops symptoms that might be endometrial cancer should make an appointment with her primary care doctor or gynecologist. A gynecologist is a special type of doctor that focuses on the female reproductive system.
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. They will also perform a pelvic exam to look and feel for tumors and abnormalities in the uterus and other reproductive organs.
They may order a transv*ginal ultrasound exam.
An ultrasound exam is a type of imaging test that uses sound waves to create pictures of the inside of the body. To perform a transv*ginal ultrasound, the doctor or other healthcare professional will insert an ultrasound probe into the v*gina. This probe will transmit images onto a monitor.
If you have endometrial cancer, your doctor will likely also order additional tests to learn if cancer has spread. For example, they might order blood tests, x-ray tests, or other imaging tests.
What are the treatments for endometrial cancer?
There are several treatment options available for endometrial cancer. A doctor’s recommended treatment plan will depend on the stage of cancer, as well as your overall health and personal preferences.
There are potential benefits and risks associated with each treatment option. A doctor can help understand the potential benefits and risks of each approach.
Endometrial cancer is often treated with a type of surgery known as hysterectomy. Here, a surgeon removes the uterus. They might also remove the ovaries and fallopian tubes, in a procedure known as a bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy (BSO). Hysterectomy and BSO are typically performed during the same operation. Also, to learn if cancer has spread, the surgeon will remove nearby lymph nodes. If cancer has spread to other areas of the body, the surgeon might recommend additional surgeries.
Radiation therapy uses high-energy beams to kill cancer cells. There are two main types of radiation therapy used to treat endometrial cancer:
- External beam radiation therapy: An external machine focuses beams of radiation on the uterus from outside your body.
- Internal radiation therapy: Radioactive materials are placed inside the body, in the v*gina or uterus.
Your doctor might recommend one or both types of radiation therapy after surgery. This can help kill cancer cells that might remain after surgery.
Chemotherapy involves the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. Some types of chemotherapy treatment involve one drug, while others involve a combination of drugs. Similarly, depending on the type of chemotherapy, the drugs might be in pill form or given through an intravenous (IV) line.
As a result, a doctor might recommend chemotherapy for endometrial cancer that has spread to other parts of the body. They might also recommend this treatment approach for endometrial cancer that has returned after past treatment.
Hormone therapy involves the use of hormones or hormone-blocking drugs to change the body’s hormone levels. This can also help slow the growth of endometrial cancer cells. Hormone therapy is often combined with chemotherapy.
Meanwhile, some strategies may help you lower your risk of developing endometrial cancer:
Manage your weight: If you’re overweight or obese, losing weight and maintaining the weight loss might lower your risk of endometrial cancer.
Get regular exercise: Regular physical activity lowers the risk of endometrial cancer. It also has many other health benefits.
Seek treatment for abnormal v*ginal bleeding: If you develop abnormal vaginal bleeding, make an appointment with your doctor.
Consider the pros and cons of hormone therapy: If you’re thinking about using HRT, ask your doctor about the potential benefits and risks of using estrogen alone versus a combination of estrogen and progesterone They can help you weigh each option.
Ask your doctor about the potential benefits of contraceptives; birth control pills and intrauterine devices (IUDs) can reduce the risk of endometrial cancer. Your doctor can help you learn about the potential benefits and risks of using these contraceptives.
Let your doctor know if you have a history of Lynch syndrome. If your family has a history of Lynch syndrome, your doctor might recommend genetic testing. Finally, If you have Lynch syndrome, they might also encourage you to consider having your uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes removed to prevent cancer from developing in those organs.
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