5 Things to Know About Uterine Cancer
The United States Congress designated January as Cervical Health Awareness Month. Almost 13,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, but the disease is virtually always preventable with vaccination and appropriate screening, including pap and HPV tests.
Merry Jennifer Markham, M.D., associate professor in the division of hematology and oncology, shares five things you need to know about uterine cancer.
Uterine cancer (also called endometrial cancer) is the most common of the gynecologic cancers. In the United States in 2013, an estimated 49,560 women will be diagnosed with uterine cancer, and an estimated 8,190 women will die from the disease. (Incidence/mortality data from the American Cancer Society)
Nearly all uterine cancers start in the lining of the uterus, the endometrium. Cancers that originate from the endometrial lining are called carcinomas. Cancers can also start in the muscle layer or the connective tissue (stroma) of the uterus, and these are called uterine sarcomas. Uterine carcinomas and uterine sarcomas are treated slightly differently, and their prognosis differs.
The primary symptom of uterine cancer is bleeding or spotting after menopause, or around the time of menopause. Any vaginal bleeding after menopause is abnormal and should prompt a visit to a physician for further evaluation.
The risk of developing uterine cancer increases for certain women. These factors are known to increase one’s risk of developing the disease:
- Use of tamoxifen, a medication used for breast cancer treatment or prevention.
- Estrogen hormonal therapy, primarily when used alone (without progesterone).
- Having more menstrual cycles. For example, women who start their periods early (before 12) and go through menopause later in life may be at increased risk.
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome.
- Having diabetes.
- Having a family history of endometrial cancers.
- Endometrial hyperplasia.
The primary treatment for most uterine cancers is surgery. For some women with uterine cancer, radiation therapy will be recommended as adjuvant treatment following surgery. For some women, chemotherapy may be recommended, and sometimes, both radiation and chemotherapy are both used after surgery. Hormonal treatments are also sometimes used to treat certain low grade (or slow growing) forms of uterine cancer.