Endometrial cancer or uterine cancer starts in the uterus. (an hollow, pear-shaped pelvic organ in women where fetal development occurs). Endometrial cancer begins in the endometrium (layer of cells that form the lining of the uterus). Endometrial cancer is often detected at an early stage because it frequently produces abnormal vaginal bleeding, which prompts women to see their doctors.
Symptoms of Endometrial cancer
Signs and symptoms of endometrial cancer may include:
- Abnormal, watery or blood-tinged discharge from your vagina
- Pelvic pain
- Vaginal bleeding after menopause
- Bleeding between periods
Causes of Endometrial cancer
The causes of endometrial cancer is yet unknown, but doctors suspect that something occurs to create a genetic mutation within cells in the endometrium.
The genetic mutation causes healthy cells to be transformed into abnormal cells. These abnormal cells grow and multiply wildly, and they don’t die at a set time. The accumulating abnormal cells form a tumor. Cancer cells attack nearby tissues and can separate from an original tumor to metastasize elsewhere in the body.
READ ALSO: What is Cervical Endometriosis?
Factors that increase the risk of endometrial cancer include:
- Never having been pregnant.Women who have never been pregnant have a greater risk of developing endometrial cancer.
- More years of menstruation.Beginning menstruation before age 12 or late menopause increases the risk of endometrial cancer. This is because, the more periods you’ve had, the more exposure your endometrium has had to estrogen.
- Changes in the balance of female hormones in the body.Your ovaries produces two main female hormones — estrogen and progesterone. Fluctuations in the balance of these hormones cause changes in your endometrium.
- Older age.As you get older, your risk of endometrial cancer increases. Endometrial cancer mostly affects women who have undergone menopause.
- Being obese increases your risk of endometrial cancer. This may occur because excess body fat alters your body’s balance of hormones.
When to see a doctor
Ensure you see your doctor if you experience any signs or symptoms that disturbs you, such as vaginal bleeding or discharge not related to your periods, pelvic pain, or pain during intercourse.
READ ALSO: Expert Tips to Prevent Cervical Cancer
Diagnosing endometrial cancer
Tests and procedures used to diagnose endometrial cancer include:
- Pelvic examination.This involves your doctor examining the outer portion of your genitals, then inserting two fingers of one hand into your vagina and simultaneously presses the other hand on your abdomen to feel your uterus and ovaries. A device called speculum is inserted into your vagina. The speculum opens your vagina so that your doctor can view your vagina and cervix for irregularities.
- Using sound waves to create a picture of your uterus.Your doctor may recommend a transvaginal ultrasound to check the thickness and texture of the endometrium and help rule out other conditions. A transducer is inserted into your vagina which uses sound waves to create a video image of your uterus.
- Using a scope to examine your endometrium. In this procedure, your doctor uses a flexible, lighted tube called hysteroscope through your vagina and cervix into your uterus. A lens on the hysteroscope permits your doctor to survey the inside of your uterus and the endometrium.
- Removing a sample of tissue for testing (Biopsy).This involves removing tissue from your uterine lining for laboratory examination.
- Performing surgery to remove tissue for testing.If enough tissue can’t be obtained during a biopsy, you’ll likely need to undergo a procedure called dilation and curettage (D&C), during which a tissue is scraped from the lining of your uterus and studied under a microscope for cancer cells.
Staging endometrial cancer
Stages of endometrial cancer include:
- Stage Icancer is found only in your uterus.
- Stage IIcancer is present in both the uterus and cervix.
- Stage IIIcancer has spread beyond the uterus, but hasn’t gotten to the rectum and bladder. The pelvic area lymph nodes may be involved.
- Stage IVcancer has spread past the pelvic region and can affect the bladder, rectum and more-distant parts of your body.
Your options for treating your endometrial cancer will depend on the characteristics of your cancer, such as the stage, your general health and your preferences.
Surgery can be performed to remove the uterus in most cases. Some women with endometrial cancer undergo a procedure to remove the uterus (hysterectomy), as well as to remove the fallopian tubes and ovaries. A hysterectomy makes it impossible for a woman to have children in the future.
Radiation therapy uses powerful energy beams, such as X-rays and protons, to kill cancer cells. In some instances, your doctor may recommend radiation to reduce your risk of a cancer recurrence after surgery. In certain situations, radiation therapy may also be recommended before surgery, to shrink a tumor and make it easier to remove.
This involves taking drugs that affect hormone levels in the body. Hormone therapy may be an option if you have advanced endometrial cancer that has spread beyond the uterus.
Chemotherapy uses chemicals to destroy cancer cells. You may receive one chemotherapy drug, or two or more drugs can be used in combination. You may receive chemotherapy drugs orally or intravenously.
Image source: Mayoclinic
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