Uterine cancer is one of the most common cancers of the female reproductive system. It is also known as sarcoma of the uterus. There are over 30,000 new cases reported each year. Uterine cancer occurs when cancer cells begin growing in the muscles and tissues of the uterus. It is unknown as to how uterine cancer is caused. However, the increased levels of a woman’s estrogen level can be a factor. The estrogen hormone helps to stimulate the buildup of the lining of the uterus.
Who is at Risk
Ninety-five percent of uterine cancer cases occurred in women who were going through menopause or who were postmenopausal. Obesity can increase the risks of uterine cancer in women who are pre-menopausal and postmenopausal. The ages of the women who were diagnosed with the cancer were between sixty and seventy five years old. Studies show that African-American women have a 1.70 percent risk compared to the 2.90 percent risk for Caucasian women. Genetics can also play a role in who develops uterine cancer. About 10 percent of uterine cancer cases were thought to be hereditary. A woman who has never been pregnant can be at risk as well. When a woman is pregnant, she will produce more progesterone than estrogen. The progesterone gives a woman more protection again uterine cancer.
The symptoms for uterine cancer are different for each person. The most common symptoms of uterine cancer are pelvic pain and abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge. The bleeding that a woman may experience will begin as light spotting and will gradually get heavier. The vaginal discharge would be like a milky secretion. The pelvic area is the area of the lower body where the internal reproductive organs lie. Some women have reported feeling a lump or a mass in that area as well. Other symptoms that women may experience would be difficult or painful urination and pain during intercourse. Some women also notice some weight loss. Women should consult with their doctor if they experience any of these symptoms. If it is not uterine cancer, it could be a sign of another serious medical condition.
If a woman is experiencing any symptoms that are associated with uterine cancer, her physician may perform one or more of these exams in order to diagnose the condition. One of these exams is a pap test. During a pap test, the physician will collect cells from the upper vagina and from the cervix. These cells will be sent to a medical laboratory to check for abnormal cells. Another exam is a pelvic exam in which the bladder, rectum, uterus, and vagina are examined. The physician will check these organs for any changes or lumps. A transvaginal ultrasound is done to take an ultrasound picture of the endometrium lining in the uterus. If the lining appears to be too thick, a biopsy may be done. A biopsy is when a physician removes a tissue sample from the lining of the uterus. The tissue is then examined for cancer cells and other conditions.
There are various treatment options for women who are battling uterine cancer. Some of these treatments include surgery, radiation therapy or hormonal therapy.
The treatment that most women choose is to have a hysterectomy which is when the uterus is removed. During this surgery, the ovaries and fallopian tubes are removed as well. If there are any lymph nodes close to the tumor, they will be removed so that they can be examined to see if they are cancerous.
During radiation therapy, high energy rays transmitted in order to kill the cancer cells. It will only affect the cancer cells in the area that is being treated. External and internal are two kinds of radiation therapy. External radiation is usually an outpatient service that is done five days a week for several weeks. With this therapy, a large machine aims radiation towards the area where the tumor is located. Internal radiation therapy is when small tubes that contain a radioactive substance are inserted in the vagina and are left there for a couple of days. This is an inpatient service which requires a hospital stay.
Hormonal therapy is used to keep cancer cells from getting the hormones that they need in order to grow. This is also called systemic therapy because it can have an affect on cancer cells throughout the woman’s body. For the hormonal therapy, the woman will take a pill that contains the progesterone hormone. The hormonal therapy is normally used in women who are unable to have surgery or radiation therapy.
All women, whether they are sexually active or not, should have a yearly pap test and pelvic exam. These tests will be helpful in detecting any abnormalities of the female’s reproductive organs. If a woman falls into any of the high risk categories, they should be monitored closely by their doctors as well. If a woman is taking estrogen replacement therapy, then she should also have regular pap tests and pelvic exams. An endometrial biopsy should also be taken under consideration.