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What to Know About Uterine Cancer

The most common type of uterine cancer is a carcinoma that originates in the endometrium, which is the tissue that lines the inside of a woman’s uterus. A less common type, accounting for less than 5 percent of uterine cancers, is known as uterine sarcoma.

Risk Factors For Uterine Cancer

Medical researchers have identified the following risk factors for developing uterine cancer:

  • Increasing age (woman older than age 50 are more likely to be affected)
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Having other family members with uterine cancer, colon cancer, or ovarian cancer, particularly HNPCC or Lynch syndromes
  • A personal history of breast or ovarian cancer
  • A personal history of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
  • A personal history of infertility, never having been pregnant, having an early onset of menstrual periods, or late menopause
  • Hormone replacement with estrogen alone (without progesterone)
  • Prior use of Tamoxifen, a drug used to treat breast cancer

Symptoms of Uterine Cancer

Sometimes uterine cancer won't have any symptoms, particularly if it is very early on. However, these symptoms are common in uterine cancer:

  • Abnormal vaginal spotting or bleeding (especially if it’s between menstrual periods, or if a woman is postmenopausal)
  • Painful intercourse
  • Unusual vaginal discharge
  • Painful urination or difficulty urinating
  • Pelvic pain

Diagnosing Uterine Cancer

Unfortunately, there aren't any screening tests for uterine cancers. However, any changes in the uterus, or any uterine sensitivity, can usually be detected on a routine pelvic exam, so it is important to stay up to date with your regular medical care.

Uterine cancer can be detected using an imaging study, such as an ultrasound, or on an endometrial biopsy, in which a small tissue sample is removed from the uterus and examined under the microscope. Occasionally, early uterine cancer can be detected with a Pap smear test, but this is not the definitive test for uterine cancer.

Treatments For Uterine Cancer

There are many ways to treat uterine cancer, including surgery (the main treatment), radiation, targeted therapy, immunotherapy, hormone therapy, or chemotherapy. If you are diagnosed with uterine cancer, your medical treatment team will take all of your health information into account—including the specific nature and stage of your cancer—when deciding on a treatment plan. Uterine cancer is very survivable, especially when detected early.