Uterine cancer begins when malignant cells being to grow in the uterus. The most common type of uterine cancer begins in the lining, or endometrium, and is also called endometrial cancer. Uterine sarcoma, develops in the muscle or, myometrium, and is a different type of cancer from endometrial cancer.
According to the National Cancer Institute, more than 39,000 women will be diagnosed with uterine cancer in the United States this year.
Symptoms of Uterine Cancer
The most common symptom of uterine cancer is abnormal vaginal bleeding. Uterine cancer can occur at the onset of menopause, but usually occurs after menopause.
A woman should see her doctor if she has any of the following symptoms:
- Vaginal bleeding or discharge that seems unusual, or that flows for more than 2 weeks
- Pain or discomfort while urinating
- Pain during intercourse
- Pain in the pelvic area
These symptoms can be caused by cancer or other conditions. Typically these symptoms are not signs of cancer, but in the interest of their best health, women should seek the guidance of an experienced gynecologist. If there is a concern, or a biopsy comes back with possible signs of cancer, you will be referred to a gynecological oncologist.
When evaluated for uterine cancer, your doctor will take a complete medical and family history, as well as perform a pelvic exam to examine the organs of the female reproductive tract for any changes in size or shape. The following tests may be ordered by your doctor to fully evaluate you for uterine cancer:
- Blood and urine tests.
- Pap smear. This test includes collecting cells from the cervix and upper vagina. An experienced pathologist will then check the cells for any sign of malignancy.
- Transvaginal ultrasound. Your doctor will use a receiver inserted in the vagina to examine the uterus, ovaries and vagina by ultrasound. Using high-frequency waves that 'bounce' back to the machine, your doctor can fully visualize the internal anatomy. If the endometrium of the uterus looks like it has thickened, your doctor will probably order a biopsy.
- Biopsy. In this procedure, which can be done in your doctor's office, your doctor will remove a sample of tissue from the endometrium. There may be times when your doctor will order a dilation and curettage (D&C), an outpatient procedure performed in the hospital under general anesthesia. A pathologist will carefully examine the sample of tissue to check for possibly malignancies and other conditions. Recovery for this procedure usually involves some cramping and vaginal bleeding.
If cancer is found in the biopsy, then your doctor will create an individualized treatment plan for you.
Treatment for uterine cancer may include:
- Hormonal Therapy
Overview of Surgical Treatment
- You will be referred by your gynecologist or primary care physician to be evaluated by a gynecologic oncologist.
- If a biopsy has already been taken and the pathology is confirmed, a treatment plan is then determined. If one of the steps is surgery, you will have a pre-operative evaluation to clear you for surgery. The gynecologic oncologist will discuss the various surgical options, which may include minimally invasive surgical procedures.
- Surgery will be performed to remove the growth and assess if there has been any spread of the cancer.
- After the surgery, the pathology is reviewed again.
- You will then return to the gynecologic oncologist, who will discuss your treatment plan. This may include chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy and/or, as well as any other treatments available.