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Signs and symptoms

  • Unusual vaginal bleeding, spotting or discharge after menopause

  • Prolonged periods or bleeding between periods

  • Pelvic pain or cramping

  • Pain during intercourse

  • Difficult or painful urination

  • Unexpected weight loss
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The good news

Uterine cancer cannot be prevented, but if caught early, it can often be cured. Report any abnormal vaginal bleeding ― regardless of age ― to your doctor.

Uterine cancer is one of four cancers that have a higher than 95 percent five-year relative survival rate if caught early. When uterine cancer moves to distant parts of the body, the survival rate reduces to less than 24 percent.

Site
Survival Rates
Local
Distant
Breast
98.1
27.1
Melanoma
98.7
15.4
Thyroid
99.7
57.8
Uterine
95.5
23.6
Source: American Cancer Society
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Questions & Answers

 

Lisa Michelle Owens, M.D.
Medical Director Brigham Primary Physicians at Faulkner Hospital

1. Why is obesity considered a risk factor for uterine, or endometrial, cancer?

The body produces some of its estrogen in fatty tissue. That’s why obese women are more likely than thin women to have higher levels of estrogen in their bodies. High levels of estrogen may be the reason that obese women have an increased risk of developing uterine cancer.

2. Is uterine cancer preventable?

There are opportunities for decreasing its likelihood. You can reduce your risk for developing endometrial cancer if you:

• Use birth control pills that contain both estrogen and progestin.

• Use progestin along with estrogen if you decide to try hormone therapy for symptoms of menopause.

• Maintain a healthy body weight.

• Breast feed if you are able. This decreases ovulation and estrogen activity.

• Recognize and get treatment for abnormal or unexpected bleeding.

• Exercise regularly. Physical activity may reduce unhealthy weight and may reduce estrogen levels.

• Eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and fiber.

• Decrease your intake of animal fats.

3. Is the Pap test used to screen for uterine cancer?

During a Pap test, the doctor collects cells from the cervix, the lower part of the uterus. A medical laboratory checks for abnormal cells. Although the Pap test can detect cancer of the cervix, cells from inside the uterus usually do not show up on a Pap test.

4. How can a woman differentiate between abnormal bleeding associated with uterine fibroids and that associated with uterine cancer?

Uterine cancer usually occurs as vaginal bleeding after menopause. Postmenopausal women typically do not have bleeding from fibroids. However, uterine cancer may also occur around the time that menopause begins and even earlier. Twenty-five percent of women with endometrial cancer are under the age of 50. Any abnormal bleeding — regardless of age — should be evaluated.

5. Can uterine cancer be cured?

Endometrial cancer in its early stages can be cured. The main treatment is surgery to remove the uterus plus the cervix, ovaries and Fallopian tubes. If the cancer has spread, the doctor may also remove the pelvic lymph nodes as well.

6. Why are women with diabetes at higher risk?

Endometrial cancer is more common in women with diabetes, possibly because obesity and type 2 diabetes often go hand in hand. However, even women with diabetes who aren’t overweight have a greater risk of endometrial cancer.

7. Should post-menopausal women refrain from hormone replacement therapy due to its association with uterine cancer?

Not necessarily, but if women take hormone replacement therapy it should include the hormone progestin as well as estrogen.

8. Does uterine cancer run in families?

A rare type of endometrial cancer is linked to a family history of a certain type of colon cancer. The less common type II of endometrial cancer has been linked to hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer (HNPCC). In women, this cancer often starts in the uterus and ovaries before it grows in the colon. The American Cancer Society recommends that a woman with a family history of HNPCC talk to her doctor about annual screenings with endometrial biopsy, starting at age 35.