Endometrial cancer is a type of uterine cancer that develops within the endometrium, the inner lining of the uterus. It accounts for more than 95 percent of uterine cancers. Endometrial cancer can usually be treated if detected during its early stages. Its specific cause is unknown, but is believed to be connected to the body's having high levels of estrogen, which, in turn, can cause changes within the endometrial cells that cause them to rapidly multiply, and invade nearby tissue. Half of all cases are diagnosed in women between 50 and 69 years old.
Risk Factors for Endometrial Cancer
Although there are no screening tests or exams for early detection of endometrial cancer, and the disease may be asymptomatic, women should still have a yearly physical and pelvic examination. Endometrial cancer often affects woman who are postmenopausal, and is more common in those who meet the following criteria:
- Are 50 years of age or older
- Have never been pregnant
- Are obese
- Have irregular ovulation
- Began menstruating at an early age
- Have diabetes
- Have used hormones or had hormone treatment
- Have had breast or ovarian cancer
Having a family history of colon cancer is also a risk factor for developing endometrial cancer.
Signs or Symptoms of Endometrial Cancer
Because early detection increases the likelihood of curing endometrial cancer, seeking medical attention when symptoms first appear is imperative. Symptoms include the following:
- Vaginal bleeding
- Prolonged periods
- Bleeding between periods
- Abnormal vaginal discharge
- Pelvic pain or pain during intercourse
Trouble urinating is also an indicator of endometrial cancer.
Diagnosis of Endometrial Cancer
If endometrial cancer is suspected, a series of tests is performed to confirm its presence, and to rule out other conditions. Tests include the following:
- Endometrial biopsy (small amount of tissue is removed from the lining of the uterus)
- Transvaginal ultrasound (sound waves check size of the uterus and thickness of its lining)
- Hysteroscopy (slender, light-transmitting scope is used to view the inside of the uterus)
- Dilation and curettage (D&C) (tissue is scraped or suctioned from inside of uterus)
If endometrial cancer is diagnosed, CT and MRI scans may be performed to see if the cancer has metastasized.
Treatment for Endometrial Cancer
Surgery is usually the first treatment for endometrial cancer. Depending on its extent, one of the following is typically performed: total hysterectomy, in which both the uterus and cervix are removed; total hysterectomy with unilateral salpingo-oophorectomy, in which the uterus, one ovary and one fallopian tube are removed; total hysterectomy with bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy, in which the uterus, both ovaries and both fallopian tubes are removed; and radical hysterectomy, in which the uterus, cervix, both ovaries, both fallopian tubes and nearby tissue are removed.
In addition, suspicious-looking lymph nodes are biopsied and, possibly, excised. In some cases, further treatment, including radiation therapy, hormone therapy and/or chemotherapy, is needed to eliminate all traces of cancer.