Endometrial cancer is one type of uterine cancer that starts in the endometrium, the inner lining of the uterus. It is a common Cancer with approximately more than one million cases each year in India alone. On average, 3 out of 100 women are diagnosed with uterine cancer at any point in their lives. The survival rate depends on the stage and extent of the disease. About 80 percent of women with uterine cancer survive for five years or more after the required diagnosis. If a woman has endometrial cancer, early diagnosis and treatment would increase the chances of her survival and remission.
What are the symptoms of endometrial cancer?
The common symptoms of endometrial cancer include-
- vaginal bleeding after menopause
- changes in the length or heaviness of menstrual periods
- vaginal bleeding or spotting between menstrual periods
- watery or blood-tinged vaginal discharge
- pain during sex
- pain in the lower abdomen or pelvis
If you experience any of the above-mentioned symptoms, make an appointment with your gynecologist right away. Such symptoms aren’t necessarily a sign of the serious condition such as endometrial cancer, but it’s important to get them checked out. Abnormal vaginal bleeding is often caused by menopause or other non-cancerous conditions. But in some cases, it’s a sign of endometrial cancer or other types of gynecological cancer. Your doctor can help you identify the cause of your symptoms and recommend appropriate treatment if needed.
What causes endometrial cancer?
The exact cause of endometrial cancer is unknown in most cases. However, experts believe that changes in the level of estrogen and progesterone in the body often play a part. When the levels of those sex hormones fluctuate, it affects your endometrium. When the balance shifts towards increased levels of estrogen, it causes endometrial cells to divide and multiply. If some genetic changes occur in endometrial cells, they become cancerous in nature and character. Those cancer cells rapidly grow and proliferate to form a tumor. Medical professionals are still studying the changes that cause normal endometrial cells to become cancer cells.
Also Read: Tips to Cope with Endometriosis
What are the stages of endometrial cancer?
With the passage of age and time, endometrial cancer can potentially spread from the uterus to other parts of the body. The cancer is classified into four stages based on how much it has grown or spread:
Stage 1: The cancer is present only in the uterus.
Stage 2: The cancer is present in the uterus and has spread to the cervix.
Stage 3: In this stage, the cancer has spread outside the uterus, but not as far as the rectum or bladder. It might be present in the fallopian tubes, ovaries, vagina, and/or nearby lymph nodes.
Stage 4: The cancer has spread beyond the pelvic region of the female. It can even be present in the bladder, rectum, and/or distant tissues and organs.
When a person is diagnosed with endometrial cancer, the stage of cancer affects what treatment options are available and the long-term outlook. Endometrial cancer is easier to treat in the early stages of the condition.
Risk Factors for Endometrial Cancer
More than 95% of endometrial cancer happens in females over the age of 40. Endometrial cancer usually happens in females after menopause. After menopause, females have a high risk for endometrial cancer if they:
- Had the first period early
- Late menopause
- High blood pressure
- Has no children
- History of, irregular periods, or abnormal cells in endometrium (endometrial hyperplasia)
- Family history of endometrial, uterine, colorectal, or breast cancer
- Taking the drug tamoxifen (used to treat or prevent breast cancer)
- Rare ovarian tumor
How is endometrial cancer diagnosed?
If you develop symptoms that might be endometrial cancer, make an appointment with your primary care doctor or gynecologist. A gynecologist is a special type of doctor that focuses on the female reproductive system. The gynecologist may ask you about your symptoms and medical history. They will perform a pelvic exam to look and feel for abnormalities in your uterus and other reproductive organs. To check for tumors or other abnormalities, they may order a transvaginal ultrasound exam.
An ultrasound exam is a type of imaging test that uses sound waves to create pictures of the inside of your body. To perform a transvaginal ultrasound, your doctor or other healthcare professional will insert an ultrasound probe into your vagina. This probe will transmit images onto a monitor. If your doctor detects abnormalities during the ultrasound exam, they may order one or more of the following tests to collect a sample of tissue for testing:
- Endometrial biopsy: In this procedure, the doctor inserts a thin flexible tube through your cervix into your uterus. Suction is then applied to remove a small piece of tissue from your endometrium through the tube.
- Hysteroscopy: In hysteroscopy, your doctor inserts a thin flexible tube with a fiber-optic camera through your cervix into your uterus. The doctor uses the endoscope to visually examine your endometrium and biopsy samples of abnormalities.
- Dilation and curettage (D&C): If the results of the previously done biopsy are not clear, the doctor might collect another sample of endometrial tissue using D&C. In order to do so, the cervix is dilated and use a special tool to scrape tissue from your endometrium.
After collecting a sample of tissue from your endometrium, the doctor will send it to a laboratory for testing. The sample is then examined under a microscope to learn if it contains cancer cells. If you have endometrial cancer, your doctor will likely order additional tests to learn if cancer has spread. For example, they might order blood tests, x-ray tests, or other imaging tests.
Preventive Measures- Lower the Risk of Endometrial Cancer
Some precautions may help to lower the risk of developing endometrial cancer:
- Manage weight: Obese people are at a high risk of getting endometrial cancer. Losing and maintaining weight and keeping the body fit and healthy can lower the risk of endometrial cancer.
- Get regular exercise: Regular physical activity has been linked to a lower risk of endometrial cancer. It also has many other health benefits.
- Seek treatment for abnormal vaginal bleeding: If you develop abnormal vaginal bleeding, make an appointment with your doctor. If the bleeding is caused by endometrial hyperplasia, ask your doctor about treatment options.
- Consider the pros and cons of hormone therapy: If you’re thinking about using HRT, ask your doctor about the potential benefits and risks of using estrogen alone versus a combination of estrogen and progesterone (progestin). They can help you weigh each option.
- Ask your doctor about the potential benefits of contraceptives: Birth control pills and intrauterine devices (IUDs) have been linked to a reduced risk of endometrial cancer. Your doctor can help you learn about the potential benefits and risks of using these contraceptives.
- Let your doctor know if you have a history of Lynch syndrome: If your family has a history of Lynch syndrome, your doctor might recommend genetic testing. If you have Lynch syndrome, they might encourage you to consider having your uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes removed to prevent cancer from developing in those organs.
If you are experiencing such symptoms which could indicate endometrial cancer or another gynecological condition, make an appointment with your gynecologist. Early diagnosis and treatment may help improve your long-term outlook. Get an appointment with the best and experienced gynecologists and doctors at Pristyn Care for the most effective treatment options. Stay healthy and fit!