Uterine cancer is the abnormal (malignant) growth of any cells that comprise uterine tissue. The buildup of cancer cells may form a mass (malignant tumor). Non-cancer cells that form a mass are termed benign tumors.
Although the exact causes of uterine cancers are not known, risk factors include women with endometrial overgrowth (hyperplasia), obesity, women who have never had children, menses beginning before age 12, menopause after age 55, estrogen therapy, taking tamoxifen, radiation to the pelvis, family history of uterine cancer, and Lynch syndrome (most commonly seen as a form of inherited colorectal cancer)
Common signs and symptoms of uterine cancer are
- abnormal vaginal bleeding (most common symptom),
- vaginal discharge,
- pain with urination and/or sex, and
- pelvic pains.
- Uterine cancer is diagnosed usually with a pelvic exam, Pap test, ultrasound, and biopsy. Occasionally, CT or MRI may be done to help confirm the diagnosis.
- Uterine cancer stages (0 to IV) are determined by biopsy, chest X-ray, and/or CT or MRI scans.
- Treatment options may include one or more of the following: surgery, radiation, hormone therapy, and chemotherapy. Treatment depends on the uterine cancer stage, your age, and general health with uterine cancer stage IV as the most extensive and usually caused by the most aggressive type of cancer cells. You and your doctors can decide what treatment plan is best for you.
- Surgical therapy usually involves removal of the uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes, adjacent lymph nodes, and part of the vagina.
- Radiation therapy may be by external radiation or by internal radiation (brachytherapy).
- Chemotherapy usually requires IV administration of drugs designed to kill cancer cells. Most chemotherapy treatments need to be done in repeated cycles of drug administration followed by a rest period.
- Hormone therapy (usually progesterone) is used on uterine cancer cells that require another hormone (estrogen) for growth.
- Second opinions can be obtained by referrals made by your doctor to others in the local medical society or to other doctors elsewhere.
- Follow-up care is important. Complications can be treated early, and possible cancer recurrence can be diagnosed early.
- Support groups are varied and many are local. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) can help locate support groups and possible clinical trials that test the newest treatments.