What is Uterine Cancer?
Uterine cancer is a cancer of the muscle and supporting tissues of the womb.
There are two types of uterine cancer. Endometrial cancer, which originates in the inner lining (endometrium) of the uterus, is the most common form of uterine cancer, making up about 90% of total uterine cancer cases.
Uterine sarcoma, which originates in the outer muscle tissue lining (myometrium) of the uterus, is a much less common form of uterine cancer, comprising of less than 10% of all cases of uterine cancer.
The exact cause of cancer of the uterus is unknown.
How Common is it?
Uterine cancer is the most common of all gynecologic cancers, which are cancers that originate in the female reproductive system.
Different women are more prone to different types of uterine cancer. Women of African descent are more likely to develop uterine sarcoma, while endometrial cancer is more common in Caucasian women.
Post-menopausal and menopausal women are most likely to develop uterine cancer.
Post-menopausal bleeding or spotting is reported in 85% of cases of uterine cancer. While this can occur because of infection or hormonal changes, an early medical evaluation is the best way to detect if bleeding or spotting is a sign of cancer.
Vaginal discharge that is free of blood can also be a sign of uterine cancer. Uterine cancer symptoms also include pain in the pelvic area and discomfort during urination or intercourse.
Post-menopausal women make up 75% of total cases of uterine cancer. However there are many other factors that increase a women’s chance of developing uterine cancer.
Many of these factors are linked to the level of estrogen in a women’s body, as well as how long she’s exposed to a high level of estrogen. Starting menstruation before the age of 12 is one risk factor, as is starting menopause late in life.
Having few or no children also increases the chance of developing uterine cancer. Women who are obese or have diabetes are also at a greater risk for cancers of the uterus. Taking tamoxifen (a drug used in the treatment and prevention of breast cancer) is another risk factor. However, some experts believe that the benefits of using tamoxifen to treat other types of cancer outweigh the risk it poses to developing uterine cancer.
Likewise, experts believe that while pelvic radiation can increase the chance of developing other forms of cancer, the benefits of such treatment outweigh the risk of developing uterus cancer.
While most forms of uterine cancer can’t be prevented, there are some factors that women can control in order to reduce their risk of developing it.
The use of oral contraceptives, such as birth control pills, can sometimes decrease a woman’s chance of developing cancer.
Obesity is another factor that is sometimes preventable. Cutting out animal fats, which can impact the metabolism of estrogen, reduces the risk of developing cancers of the uterus.
Having multiple pregnancies also reduces the chance of developing uterine cancer.
Treatment and Survival Rates
In recent decades, early detection and treatment has vastly improved a woman’s chance of surviving cancer.
Cancers of the uterus are most often detected through an endometrial biopsy, in which a thin tube is inserted into the uterus. In this process, several tissue samples are extracted from different locations of the uterine wall. They are then analyzed for cancerous cells. If cancerous cells are found, then you will be diagnosed with uterine cancer.
While the chance of survival varies from individual to individual, a complete physical exam, including a pelvic exam, increases a woman’s odds of surviving cancer.
Radiation is the most common form of treatment for cancers of the uterus. Less common forms of uterine cancer treatment include hormone therapy and chemotherapy.
Uterine Cancer and Fertility
There is no clear link between uterine cancer and fertility.
While pregnancy rates of cancer patients are lower than those of the general population, most cancer patients don’t have fertility problems. However, severe forms of uterine cancer can result in scarring of the uterus, which in turn impacts fertility.