The uterus is part of a woman's reproductive system. It is the hollow, pear-shaped organ in the pelvis. The wall of the uterus has two layers of tissue. The inner layer or lining is the endometrium, and the outer layer is muscle tissue called the myometrium. The most common type of cancer of the uterus begins in the lining (endometrium). Although the exact cause is unknown, increased levels of estrogen appear to have a role. Estrogen helps stimulate the buildup of the epithelial lining of the uterus.
Uterine cancer usually occurs after menopause, typically between the ages of 60 and 70. It also may occur around the time that menopause begins. Abnormal vaginal bleeding is the most common symptom of uterine cancer. Bleeding may start as a watery, blood-streaked flow that gradually contains more blood. Women should not assume that abnormal vaginal bleeding is part of menopause. A woman should see her doctor if she has any of the following symptoms:
These symptoms can be caused by cancer or other less serious conditions. Most often they are not cancer, but only a doctor can tell for sure.
Women who get this disease are more likely than other women to have certain risk factors. A risk factor is something that increases the chance of developing the disease. Risk factors for uterine cancer include:
Other risk factors relate to how long a woman’s body is exposed to estrogen. Women who have no children, begin menstruation at a young age, or enter menopause late in life are exposed to estrogen longer and have a higher risk. The endometrium can be stimulated by the increased estrogen levels related to obesity, liver disease or other sources such as postmenopausal estrogen.
The ideal method for screening asymptomatic women has not yet been devised. If a woman has symptoms that suggest uterine cancer, her doctor may check general signs of health and may order blood and urine tests. The doctor also may perform one or more of the following exams or tests:
Endometrial cancer is highly curable. Treatment options involve surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy.
National Cancer Institute, U.S. National Institutes of Health
National Women's Health Information Center