Endometrial Cancer

What is Endometrial Cancer?

Endometrial cancer (uterine cancer) develops, reproduces and forms a malignant growth in the lining of the uterus. The cancer can spread to otherwise healthy nearby tissues, and it can break away and metastasize to other areas of the body. It is the most common type of uterine cancer.

The actual cause is unknown, but the risk of developing endometrial cancer increase in women with diabetes and hypertension and in those who are obese. It can be caused by a genetic syndrome (HNPCC) that increases cancer risk. The risk also increases in women who have never been pregnant, those who go through early menstruation and late menopause, and it rises with age.

What are the Symptoms of Endometrial Cancer?

Uterine cancer is usually found through routine pap testing, but it may exhibit warning signs.

Symptoms include

  • Unusual, watery and/or blood-tinged vaginal discharge
  • Abnormal bleeding between menstrual periods
  • Difficulty passing urine and/or painful urination
  • Post-menopausal vaginal bleeding
  • Painful sexual intercourse
  • Pain in the pelvic region

Endometrial Cancer Causes

Also known as uterine cancer, endometrial cancer occurs when cellular changes and mutations begin in the lining of the uterus (the endometrium). It is not known exactly what causes those mutations to occur. However, there are many known risk factors that have been linked to the development of endometrial cancer. These include fluctuations in the hormones progesterone and estrogen, longer spans of menstruation either from early onset menstruation or late onset menopause, obesity, the drug Tamoxifen, and age. Women who come from a family with hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer also run a higher risk of developing endometrial cancer as do women who have never been pregnant.

How is Endometrial Cancer Treated?

After diagnosis, the stage is determined according to how far the cancer has spread. Endometrial cancer treatment options depend on the stage, general health and symptoms.

Treatment includes

  • Hysterectomy (surgical removal of the uterus)
  • Internal and external radiation
  • Hormone therapy
  • Intravenous or oral chemotherapy
  • Pain medication
  • Emotional support

Endometrial Cancer Prevention

Since the actual cause of endometrial cancer is not known, patients cannot prevent it altogether. But given the known risks, many of those factors can be avoided or controlled. While women cannot prevent menopause from happening altogether, hormone replacement therapy would provide a way for controlling big fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone during perimenopause and menopause itself which would limit the length of time women are exposed to that particular risk factor. Maintaining a healthy weight is one of the most effective ways a woman can decrease her risk of developing uterine cancer.

Pursuing a healthy lifestyle, including diet, regular exercise and good, regular gynecological care including screenings for cancer is probably the one best preventative measure a patient has against the disease. For women who have survived breast cancer, the decision whether or not to take the hormone-based drug Tamoxifen is a very personal one but should be made in conjunction with advice from her physician after looking at all risk factors regarding both breast cancer recurrence and endometrial cancer risk. Women who have a hereditary risk of uterine cancer can also take the drastic step of hysterectomy, which completely eliminates the risk of uterine cancer, but comes with many other health complications. That is a preventative measure that should only be employed in the most high-risk patients.