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What is endometrial cancer?
Endometrial cancer is cancer of the endometrium. The endometrium is the lining of the uterus (sometimes called the womb). It is the most common form of uterine cancer.
What are the symptoms of endometrial cancer?
The most common sign of endometrial cancer is abnormal bleeding in your uterus. Contact your healthcare provider if you have:
- Menstrual bleeding that is heavier or lasts longer than usual. This is especially true after the age of 40.
- Menstrual cycles that are shorter than 21 days.
- Post-menopausal bleeding and/or vaginal discharge.
CAUSES & RISK FACTORS
What causes endometrial cancer?
Endometrial cancer does not have an exact cause. Estrogen levels have been known to play a part.
DIAGNOSIS & TESTS
How is endometrial cancer diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider may do a pelvic exam. They also will review your symptoms and health history. To diagnose endometrial cancer, they most often will perform a pelvic ultrasound. Other diagnostic tests may include:
- Endometrial biopsy can be done in your healthcare provider’s office. Your healthcare provider will insert a narrow tube into the uterus through the vagina. They will remove a small tissue sample from the uterine wall. This tissue is tested in a lab for cancerous or precancerous cells.
- Dilatation and curettage (D & C) takes about an hour. This is an outpatient procedure. It requires some form of anesthesia. The procedure involves dilating (widening) your cervix (the opening of the uterus). This procedure also requires the healthcare provider to insert a thin tool and collect a tissue sample. A lab will test for cancerous or precancerous cells.
- Imaging tests can help diagnose cancer. These are rarely done to diagnose endometrial cancer, though. Examples include an ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and computed tomography (CT) scan. These tests are less invasive and safe for people who cannot have anesthesia.
Your healthcare provider will talk to you about which procedure is right for you. Tell them if you have health problems, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or other types of cancer.
If you are diagnosed with endometrial cancer, your healthcare provider will do more testing to determine the stage and grade.
Can endometrial cancer be prevented or avoided?
You cannot prevent or avoid endometrial cancer. It is most common in women who are older than 50 years of age and have gone through menopause. A high estrogen level can increase your risk. Obesity, diabetes, or high blood pressure can affect this. Women who use hormone replacement therapy (HRT) should be careful. If you take estrogen, make sure you supplement it with progestin (a synthetic form of progesterone) as well.
Other risk factors include:
- An early first period (before 12 years of age)
- Irregular periods
- Never being pregnant
- Endometrial polyps
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- Use of a medicine called tamoxifen
Using birth control pills with both estrogen and progestin during childbearing years may lower your risk of endometrial cancer.
Treatment for endometrial cancer typically involves a hysterectomy. This is surgery to remove your uterus. You may need your fallopian tubes and ovaries removed as well. If your estrogen level is high, your healthcare provider may prescribe progestin to balance it. You may need radiation therapy or chemotherapy. This will depend on the stage and grade of the cancer.
Living with endometrial cancer
People who have endometrial cancer can live a long life. Treatment is very effective, especially if the cancer is found early. If it is found late or left untreated, it can spread outside the uterus.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Canadian Cancer Society