Uncontrolled growth of the cells in the uterus is called cancer. Uterus tend to abnormally thicken or form a mass of cells, called tumor. Cancer can be benign or malignant. Malignant cancer spreads to nearby organs and may be life threatening. The innermost lining of the uterus is called endometrium. Hence Uterine cancer is commonly referred to as Endometrial cancer.
Risk Factors for Uterine Cancer
There is no definite cause of uterine cancer but there are certain factors that increases ones risk of developing uterine cancer.
Imbalance of estrogen levels in the body or exposure to estrogen for a longer period of time, increases the risk of uterine cancer because generally this is the hormone that helps build up the uterine lining and prepares the uterus prior to ovulation. So, when when a woman reaches puberty at an early age and reaches menopause (complete ceasing of ovulation and menstruation) late, she is being exposed to estrogen for a longer period of time in her life. Hence at a higher risk of developing the cancer.
Woman who have a family history of colon cancer, are at an increased risk of developing uterine cancer due to a genetic defect within the cells.
Uterine cancer most often occurs in woman greater than 50 years of age.
Fatty women tend to produce increased amount of estrogen, the hormone that increases the risk of developing uterine cancer. Around 40% of uterine cancer is linked to Obesity.
Symptoms of Uterine Cancer
It is important to know the symptoms of uterine cancer as this helps in early diagnosis of the condition.
- Unusual vaginal bleeding in women who have reached menopause.
- Vaginal spotting or discharge.
- Pain during sexual intercourse.
- Pain in the hip area.
- Pain or difficulty while urinating.
Diagnosing Uterine Cancer
Depending on ones age, medical condition, symptoms and type of cancer suspected, the doctor will decide which of the following tests to perform.
The doctor feels the uterus, vagina, cervix and rectum to check for any obvious abnormal growths. This is usually done to exclude other reproductive tract conditions that may cause the above symptoms.
A probe is inserted into the uterus through the vaginal canal and the uterus along with the surrounding structures are visualized closely. Any abnormal growth or mass identified needs to be evaluated further with help of Biopsy.
A long thin tube is inserted into the uterus through the vagina and a small amount of uterine tissue is sucked out and examined under a microscope. This is an accurate technique that helps to make a definite diagnosis and thereby identify the type of uterine cancer.
Treatments for Uterine Cancer
Uterine cancer is usually treated with a combination of Chemotherapy(use of medications), Radiotherapy(Use of radiation), and Surgery. However, treatment plans vary based on patients overall health condition, age, severity and spread of cancer.
- Hormone treatment: Certain hormones, by the name aromatase inhibitors help reduce size of tumor and inhibit its growth by inhibiting the production of Estrogen in the body. This is usually recommended when the woman’s health condition does not permit surgery or radiation therapy.
- Chemotherapy : This is the use of drugs(medication)to destroy the tumor cells itself or reduce the size of tumor. This can be done either after the surgery or if cancer returns after initial treatment.
- Hysterectomy: Depending upon the extent of tumor , either the uterus alone or the surrounding organs and lymph nodes also will be removed. This can be done using the open or laparoscopic technique. The laparoscopic approach is preferred due to its faster recovery period and minimal blood loss. Read more about Hysterectomy.
Certain Factors can lower the risk of developing Uterine Cancer
- Maintaining a healthy body weight.
- Taking birth control pills for a long period of time.
- Consider ones risk of developing uterine cancer before starting estrogen replacement therapies in old age.