Uterine cancer is the growth of cancer cells that start in the uterus. The walls of the uterus are made of an inner and outer lining. The endometrium is the inner lining. This is where the most common type of uterine cancer begins.
This fact sheet will focus on endometrial cancer.
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Cancer is the out of control growth of cells. The cells form a clump of tissue called a growth or tumor. Cancer cells can invade nearby tissues. It can then spread to other parts of the body.
The exact cause of uterine cancer is not known. It may be linked to exposure to the hormone estrogen. Genes and environment may also play a role in this type of cancer.
Uterine cancer is more common in women over 40 years old. Other things that may raise the risk are:
- Long term use of estrogens or tamoxifen—in high doses
- Early start of menstrual periods
- Late menopause
- History of abnormal cells or polyps in the uterus
Health conditions such as:
- Infertility, or never having a pregnancy
- A family history of:
- Uterine cancer
- Cowden syndrome or Lynch syndrome
Symptoms of uterine cancer may be:
- Bleeding between menstrual periods
- Vaginal bleeding or spotting in postmenopausal women
- Belly bloating or fullness
- Pain in the pelvic area
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and past health. A pelvic exam will be done. Tests may include:
- Ultrasound of the pelvis
- Biopsy—a small tissue sample is taken from the uterus
- Blood tests
- Dilation and curettage
(D&C)—a procedure to remove samples of uterine tissue
- Hysteroscopy—a lighted scope to check the uterus
- Pap test—to see if cancer has spread beyond the uterus
Uterine cancer is staged from 1 to 4. Stage 1 is a cancer that has stayed in one area. Stage 4 is a cancer that has spread to other parts of the body.
Treatments for uterine cancer depend on the stage of the cancer. Surgery will be done to remove as much of the cancer as possible. Surgery to remove the uterus is called hysterectomy. Nearby tissue, such as ovaries or lymph tissue, may also need to be removed. Other treatment may include:
- Radiation therapy— to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Can help shrink tumor before surgery. Can also shrink tumors that are causing problems but cannot be removed.
- Hormone therapy—to change how cancer cells work. Can stop or slow cancer growth and spread.
- Chemotherapy by mouth, catheter, or injection—to kill cancer cells. Can help with cancer that has or may have spread to other areas of the body.
To help reduce the risk of many cancers:
- Stay active.
- Reach and keep a healthy weight.
- Eat healthy diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
Endometrial cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/endometrial-cancer.html. Accessed March 8, 2021.
Endometrial cancer. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/endometrial-cancer. Accessed Macrh 8, 2021.
Endometrial cancer. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/gynecology-and-obstetrics/gynecologic-tumors/endometrial-cancer. Accessed March 8, 2021.
General information about endometrial cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/uterine/patient/endometrial-treatment-pdq. Accessed March 8, 2021.
1/11/2018 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillancehttp://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115517/Breastfeeding: Jordan SJ, Na R, Johnatty SE, et al. Breastfeeding and endometrial cancer risk: an analysis from the epidemiology of cancer consortium. Obstet Gynecol. 2017;129(6):10599-1067.
Last reviewed January 2021 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP
Last Updated: 3/8/2021