Cancer starting in the uterus is known as endometrial cancer. It is also known as uterine cancer. The uterus is a reproductive organ in the females where the fetus develops.
Endometrial cancer or uterine cancer originates in the cells, which line the endometrium. There are other types of cancer which can occur in the uterus, such as uterine sarcoma; however, endometrial cancer or uterine cancer is the most common one. Endometrial cancer is usually discovered in the initial stages, as it often causes irregular vaginal bleeding and the early detection of the endometrial cancer or uterine cancer helps in curing the endometrial cancer by surgically removing the uterus. Other treatment options include: Radiation therapy, hormone therapy and chemotherapy.
Stages of Endometrial Cancer or Uterine Cancer
- Stage I: In this stage, the cancer is confined only to the uterus.
- Stage II: In this stage, the cancer is present in the uterus and as well as the cervix.
- Stage III: In this stage, the cancer has metastasized past the uterus, but hasn’t spread to the bladder and rectum. However, the lymph nodes in the pelvic region may be involved.
- Stage IV: In this stage, the cancer has spread beyond the pelvic region and may involve the rectum, bladder, and far away areas of the body.
Causes of Endometrial Cancer or Uterine Cancer
The exact cause of endometrial cancer or uterine cancer is not known. Doctors believe that a genetic mutation in the endometrial cells changes the healthy cells into abnormal cells and these abnormal cells rapidly and uncontrollably grow and multiply and don’t die at a specific time like normal healthy cells do. These abnormal cells start building up and result in a mass or tumor. Cancer cells then infiltrate the adjacent tissues and also can metastasize to other areas of the body.
Risk Factors of Endometrial Cancer or Uterine Cancer
- Imbalance of female hormones, i.e., estrogen and progesterone in the body. Women who are suffering from irregular menstrual cycles, polycystic ovary syndrome, diabetes and obesity are at a higher risk for developing endometrial cancer or uterine cancer.
- Women who take hormones after they have attained menopause are also at an increased risk for endometrial cancer or uterine cancer.
- Having more menstruating years such as starting menstruation very early (before 12 years age) or having menopause at a later age also increases the risk of having endometrial cancer or uterine cancer.
- The risk of endometrial cancer increases with age, as you get older.
- Also, women who have never had a pregnancy are at a higher risk for having endometrial cancer or uterine cancer.
- Having hormone therapy for breast cancer increases the risk of having endometrial cancer.
- Being overweight or obese also increases the risk of endometrial cancer.
- Hereditary Nonpolyposis Colorectal Cancer (HNPCC) is an inherited syndrome which increases the risk of having colon cancer and also other cancers.
Signs and Symptoms of Endometrial Cancer or Uterine Cancer
- Irregular menstrual bleeding or intermenstrual bleeding.
- Having vaginal bleeding after attaining menopause.
- Lower abdominal or pelvic pain.
- Having watery or blood-tinged vaginal discharge.
- Dyspareunia (painful intercourse).
Investigations for Endometrial Cancer or Uterine Cancer
- Pelvic exam
- Transvaginal ultrasound
- Endometrial biopsy
- Dilation and Curettage (D and C.)
Investigations to Determine Cancer Stage:
- Chest x-ray.
- Computerized Tomography (CT) Scan.
- Positron Emission Tomography (PET) Scan.
- Blood tests.
Treatment for Endometrial Cancer or Uterine Cancer
Treatment for endometrial cancer or uterine cancer depends on the features of the cancer, its stage, patient’s general health and her treatment preferences.
Surgery for Endometrial Cancer or Uterine Cancer
Hysterectomy is a surgery done to remove the uterus and is commonly recommended for treating endometrial cancer or uterine cancer. Having a hysterectomy also means not being able to bear children in the future. The removal of ovaries and fallopian tubes also will put you on an early menopause, if you are not in that range already.
During the surgery, the surgeon will examine the areas surrounding the uterus to see if the cancer has spread. The lymph nodes may also be removed for testing and determining the stage of the cancer.
Radiation Therapy for Endometrial Cancer or Uterine Cancer
Radiation therapy involves the use of powerful energy beams aimed at specific points of the body to kill the cancer cells. It can also be used after surgery to decrease the risk of cancer recurrence. Radiation therapy may also be done before surgery to help shrink the tumor thus making it easy to remove it.
If the patient is not healthy enough to withstand surgery, then the doctor may recommend only radiation therapy. In patients having advanced endometrial cancer or uterine cancer, radiation therapy helps in easing the cancer-related pain.
Radiation Therapy is of 2 Types:
- External Beam Radiation: Where the radiation is targeted externally to specific points of your body.
- Internal Radiation (Brachytherapy): where the radiation is placed within your body such as with a radiation-filled device (wires, small seeds, cylinder) in the vagina for a brief period of time.
Hormone Therapy for Endometrial Cancer or Uterine Cancer
Taking medications which affect the hormone levels in the body is known as hormone therapy. This treatment is usually done in patients with advanced endometrial cancer or uterine cancer which spread outside the uterus. Hormone therapy includes medications which increase the progesterone levels in the body and medications which decrease the estrogen levels in the body.
Chemotherapy for Endometrial Cancer or Uterine Cancer
Chemotherapy is the treatment which involves the use of chemicals/drugs to destroy cancer cells. One or more than one chemotherapy drugs can be used. Chemotherapy drugs can be given orally in a pill form or intravenously through your veins. Chemotherapy is usually recommended in patients having advanced or recurrent endometrial cancer or uterine cancer which has metastasized beyond the uterus. Chemotherapy drugs travel through your body via bloodstream and kill the cancer cells.