Endometrial Cancer - Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Prevention & Treatment

Endometrial Cancer

Dr.Sujatha P profile Authored by Dr.Sujatha P on 12 Nov 2014 - 16:24.

Endometrial cancer is simply the cancer of uterus. It is also called as uterine cancer. Uterus is the pear shaped, hollow organ in women where the development of foetus occurs. Endometrial cancer is the most common cancer of the female genitalia. Other types of cancer such as uterine sarcoma can also occur but they are reported lesser than uterine cancer.

This cancer starts developing from the cells of the lining of the endometrium or uterus. Endometrial cancer usually is detected at an early stage due to its symptoms which makes the women to visit their doctors. Early discovery of this cancer can be helpful to cure it by surgically removing the uterus.

The exact cause of endometrial cancer is not known. It is known that something occurs which creates a genetic mutation in the cells of the uterus or the lining of the uterus. This genetic mutation turns the healthy cells into abnormal or cancerous cells. These cells grow and multiply without any control and they don’t even die at their normal time. This leads to accumulation of the cells and eventually forms a mass which is called as tumour. These cancerous cells can get separated from the initial tumour and invade the neighbouring cells and can spread cancer in other parts of the body.

Signs and symptoms of endometrial cancer include the following:

  • Bleeding between periods
  • Vaginal bleeding after menopause
  • Pelvic pain
  • Abnormal, blood tinged, watery discharge from vagina
  • Pain during intercourse

The various tests and procedures used in the diagnosis of endometrial cancer include:

  • Pelvic examination: In this examination the doctor examines the outer region of the genitals and then the uterus and the ovaries. This is done to check any abnormalities.
  • Ultrasound: A trans-vaginal ultrasound may be recommended to study the thickness and texture of the uterus.
  • Hysteroscopy: In this procedure a flexible, thin tube called hysteroscope is inserted through the vagina, cervix into the uterus. The lens on the tube helps the doctor to examine the inside of uterus.
  • Endometrial biopsy: A sample of cells from the uterus is removed to analyse in the laboratory for cancerous properties.

Factors which can increase the risk of endometrial cancer include:

  • Change in the hormonal balance in the body: Change in the balance of the hormones oestrogen and progesterone increases the risk of cancer of uterus.
  • More years of menstruation: The start of menstruation at an early age i.e. before the age of 12 or the stopping of menstruation or menopause late increases the risk of endometrial cancer. This is due to the more exposure of uterus to oestrogen during menstruation.
  • Never becoming pregnant: Women who never had been pregnant have increased risk of uterine cancer compared to women who had been pregnant for at least once.
  • Obesity: This is because the excess fat in the body causes a change in the hormonal balance.
  • Old age: the risk of endometrial cancer increases with age.

Complications:

Endometrial cancer left untreated for long periods can spread to other parts of the body and usually to the lungs making it complicated and more difficult to be treated.

The treatment of endometrial cancer depends on the stage of cancer, general health of the patient and patient’s preferences. The following treatment options are available for endometrial cancer:

Surgery:

The complete removal of the uterus by surgical procedure is recommended mostly for women with uterine cancer. This procedure of removal of uterus is called as hysterectomy. Along with the uterus the fallopian tubes and ovaries are also removed in most of the cases. This procedure is called salpingo-oophorectomy. The chance of having children gets completely finished with the removal of uterus and menopause may be experiences when the ovaries are removed.

During surgery the surgeon will also inspect the surrounding areas of the uterus for the signs of spread of the cancer.

Radiation:

Radiation therapy may be recommended for the patients who are not healthy enough to undergo surgery. It is also used in women with advanced stage cancer to reduce the cancer related pain.

Radiation therapy involves the use of powerful beams such as X-ray to kill the cancerous cells. Radiation therapy may also be recommended by the doctor to reduce the risk of recurrence of cancer after surgery. It is also recommended before surgery to shrink the tumour to make it easy to remove.

Radiation therapy can be of the following types:

  • Radiation from a machine outside the body: This type of therapy is called external beam radiation therapy in which the radiation is directed from a machine to the specific points in the body.
  • Internal radiation: It is also called as brachytherapy and involves placing a radiation filled device such as wires, cylinders or small seeds inside the vagina for short duration of time.

Hormone therapy:

This therapy involves the consumption of medications which affect the levels of hormones in the body. This therapy is usually recommended in advanced endometrial cancer where the cancer has spread beyond the endometrium. This therapy can be done by either of the following methods:

Drugs to increase the progesterone levels: Synthetic progestin which is form of progesterone helps to stop the growth of cancer cells in the endometrium.

Drugs to reduce the oestrogen levels: hormone therapy drugs help to reduce the levels of oestrogen or make it difficult for the body to use the oestrogen available in the body.

Chemotherapy:

This involves the use of drugs to kill the cancer cells. A single drug or a combination of several drugs may be used. The drugs may be given orally or intravenously. This treatment option is recommended for patients with advanced endometrial cancer or recurrent cancer that has spread to other parts of the body.

The following steps should be followed to reduce the risk of endometrial cancer:

  • Talk to the doctor about the risks of hormone therapy after menopause.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Consider taking oral contraceptive pills after assessing the benefit risk ratio with the help of a doctor.
  • Perform exercises for most days of the week for at least 30mins a day.
*Disclaimer This is not medical advice. The content is for educational purposes only. Please contact your doctor for any health care issues.