Uterine cancer begins in the uterus (womb), the pear-shaped organ in a woman's pelvis where the baby grows when a woman is pregnant. Uterine cancer is also called endometrial cancer because it forms in the lining of your uterus (endometrium). Most uterine cancers are adenocarcinomas (cancers that begin in cells that make and release mucus and other fluids).
Uterine cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women in the United States and the most commonly diagnosed gynecologic cancer.
All women are at risk for uterine cancer, but the risk increases with age. Most uterine cancers are found in women who are post menopausal - the time of life when your menstrual periods stop.
There is no way to know for sure if you will get uterine cancer. Some women get it without being at high risk. However, several factors may increase the chance that you will get uterine cancer, including if you—
- Are older than 50.
- Are obese (have an abnormally high, unhealthy amount of body fat).
- Take estrogen by itself (without progesterone) for hormone replacement during menopause.
- Have had trouble getting pregnant, or have had fewer than five periods in a year before starting menopause.
- Take tamoxifen, a drug used to treat certain types of breast cancer.
- Have close family members who have had uterine, colon, or ovarian cancer.
- Early menstruation: Beginning to have menstrual periods at an early age increases the number of years the body is exposed to estrogen and increases a woman's risk of endometrial cancer.
- Late menopause: Women who reach menopause at an older age are exposed to estrogen for a longer time and have an increased risk of endometrial cancer.
- Never being pregnant: Because estrogen levels are lower during pregnancy, women who have never been pregnant are exposed to estrogen for a longer time than women who have been pregnant.
The following protective factors may decrease the risk of endometrial cancer:
- Taking contraceptives that combine estrogen and progestin (combination oral contraceptives) .The protective effect of combination oral contraceptives increases with the length of time they are used, and can last for many years after oral contraceptive use has been stopped.
- Being pregnant or breastfeeding, which lowers a woman's Estrogen levels.
- A diet low in saturated fats and high in fruits and vegetables may lower the risk of endometrial cancer. The risk may also be lowered when soy -based foods are a regular part of the diet.
Ask your doctor about how often you should be checked for uterine cancer, especially if you think that you have factors that increase your chance of getting it.
Uterine cancer may cause vaginal discharge or bleeding, or cause pain or pressure in your pelvis (lower abdomen) that is not normal for you. If you have these symptoms, please see your doctor.
There are no simple and reliable ways to test for uterine cancer in women who do not have any signs or symptoms. The Pap test does not screen for uterine cancer. The only cancer the Pap test screens for is cervical cancer.
The following tests or procedures may be used:
- Transvaginal ultrasound (TVU) is a procedure used to examine the vagina, uterus, fallopian tubes, and bladder through a probe that is inserted into the vagina and used to bounce high-energy sound waves (ultrasound) off internal tissues or organs and make echoes. The echoes form a picture of body tissues called a sonogram. The doctor can identify tumors by looking at the sonogram.
- Endometrial sampling is the removal of tissue from the endometrium by inserting a thin, flexible tube through the cervix and into the uterus. The tool is used to gently scrape a small amount of tissue from the endometrium which is viewed under a microscope to look for cancer cells.
If you have been diagnosed with uterine cancer, ask to be referred to a gynecologic oncologist—a doctor who has been trained to treat cancers of the female reproductive system.
To make an appointment with a Mount Sinai gynecologic oncologist, please call us at 212-427-9898 or 212-241-1111.