Endometrial Cancer

Definition

Endometrial cancer (or uterine cancer) occurs in the layer of cells that line the uterus. The uterus is an avocado-shaped cavity where a fetus develops. Other cancer types can begin in the uterus, although they are rarer.

Risk factors for Endometrial Cancer

The main risk factors for endometrial cancer are:

Changes in hormones: Estrogen and progesterone are the two main female hormones. Levels of these hormones fluctuate over time which changes the endometrium. A disorder that causes the body to produce more estrogen than progesterone leads to a greater risk of you developing endometrial cancer.

Years of Menstruation: Beginning menstruation at an early age (before age 12) or beginning menopause later raises the likelihood of developing endometrial cancer. In essence, the more periods you have had, the greater exposure your endometrium has had to estrogen.

No pregnancies: If you have never been pregnant, you have a greater risk of endometrial cancer.

Older age: As you age, your risk of developing endometrial cancer grows. Endometrial cancer most occurs after menopause onset.

Obesity: Your risk of endometrial cancer rises if you are obese. A possible reason is that excess body fat interferes in hormone balance.

Hormone therapy for breast cancer: If prescribed tamoxifen (breast cancer treatment), then discuss the risk of developing endometrial cancer with your doctor. Taking this drug can increase your risk.

An inherited colon cancer syndrome: Lynch syndrome, formally known as hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC), increases the risk of colon cancer as well as other cancers, such as endometrial cancer. If you or a family member have been diagnosed with Lynch syndrome, ask your doctor what next steps you should take.

Signs & symptoms of Endometrial Cancer

Common signs and symptoms of endometrial cancer:

  • Vaginal bleeding after menopause
  • Bleeding between periods
  • Increase or change in your period
  • Pelvic pain

Screening

Endometrial cancer often consists of an early-stage diagnosis as it frequently presents symptoms of abnormal vaginal bleeding. Women with no symptoms do not commonly undergo routine screening; however, women with symptoms can have an ultrasound scan. The ultrasound scan performed can be either a transvaginal scan, where the scan inserts into your vagina or an abdominal scan, where the scan moves over your stomach area.

Diagnosing Endometrial Cancer

Some tests and procedures your doctor may perform to determine endometrial cancer:

Pelvic Exam: As a doctor examines the inside of your vagina, they will press the lower part of your belly to feel your pelvic organs.

Sound-Wave Imaging: In some circumstances, a doctor can use a transducer (a thin, small device) to create a video image of your uterine lining. The transducer emits sound waves that help your doctor determine the thickness and texture of your endometrium.

Scope Exam: In some cases, your doctor may use an elastic, thin, and lighted hysteroscope to examine the inside of your uterus.

Tissue Sampling: This biopsy procedure consists of taking a small sample of tissue from the cells lining your uterus; it does not even require anesthesia.

Staging

If found to have endometrial cancer, the doctor will determine your cancer stage by performing more tests. The stage of your cancer determines your treatment plan. Endometrial cancer stages range from I to IV. In stage IV, the cancer has spread to other body parts

Treatment for Endometrial Cancer

Treatment for endometrial cancer depends on different factors, such as your cancer stage, other health problems you may have, and your preferences. For treatment, surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, or a combination of the three can be employed.

For the surgery, you will undergo an operation to remove the uterus (hysterectomy), Fallopian tubes, and ovaries (salpingo-oophorectomy). After a hysterectomy, you will be infertile. Also, the removal of the ovaries will generate the onset of menopause.

Radiotherapy utilizes high power energy beams to destroy cancer cells. Radiotherapy can occur before or after surgery. If unable to undergo surgery, the doctor may recommend radiation therapy as your sole treatment.

Chemotherapy involves using chemicals to destroy cancer cells. You are prescribed either one or more chemotherapy drugs. These drugs can be taken orally (pills) or through your veins (intravenously). This method may be used before, after, and during the treatment plan.

Targeted therapy involves drugs that block specific weaknesses within cancer cells which causes them to die. This technique pairs well with chemotherapy to treat advanced endometrial cancer.

Hormone therapy drugs decrease the levels of hormones in the body. They cause cancer cells dependent on hormones to die. Immunotherapy incites your immune system by interfering with cancer cells’ surface proteins. This therapy will allow your immune system to help fight the cancer cells.

Supportive or palliative care aids in the medical care used in disease treatment. Palliative care provides pain relief and other support forms from a team of doctors, nurses, and other health professionals.