What is endometrial (en-doe-MEE-TREE-uhl) cancer?
It is cancer of the lining of the uterus (womb), and is the fourth most common cancer in women.
What are the symptoms?
The most common symptom is abnormal vaginal bleeding. If you've already gone through menopause, any vaginal bleeding or spotting is abnormal. If you haven't gone through menopause yet, an increase in the flow or frequency of your period, or any bleeding between periods, is abnormal. Tell your doctor if you have these symptoms.
In some women, endometrial cancer can cause a thin, watery, or whitish discharge. Most women with bleeding or discharge do not have cancer. Other symptoms can include pain in your belly or pelvis, weight loss, and pain during sex. However, these symptoms are also common with many other conditions.
What are the risk factors?
Having a higher level of a hormone called estrogen can put you at risk. This may be caused by obesity, never having had a baby, infertility, late menopause (older than 52 years), irregular periods, having your first period at an early age (younger than 12 years), and use of estrogen therapy (when not taken with another hormone called progesterone).
Your risk also increases after 35 years of age. Most cases occur in women 50 to 60 years of age. High blood pressure, diabetes, some genetic syndromes, and a family history of endometrial cancer can also put you at risk.
How can I prevent it?
You can't prevent endometrial cancer, but you can lower your risk. Taking combined birth control pills and combined hormone therapy (pills containing both estrogen and progesterone) might protect you against endometrial cancer. Maintaining a healthy weight is also very important.
Should I get tested?
If you don't have symptoms, you don't need to be tested. If you have symptoms, your doctor might have you get an ultrasound of your pelvis or take a small sample of tissue from the lining of your uterus to check for cancer. This is called a biopsy. If you can't have an endometrial biopsy, your doctor may do a procedure called a dilatation and curettage (also called a D and C), which allows him or her to get a tissue sample.
How is it treated?
Treatment depends on how far along the disease is. The most common treatment is surgery to remove the uterus and ovaries. This is called a hysterectomy (HISS-ter-ECK-toe-MEE).
Radiation therapy, hormone therapy, and chemotherapy are other options.
Where can I get more information?
American Cancer Society
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
Web site: http://www.acog.org/publications/patient_education/bp097.cfm
National Cancer Institute