About Uterine Cancer

Cells with abnormal genetic changes (called mutations) can start growing and dividing uncontrollably. When the cells in the uterus show this nature, it gives rise to uterine cancer. The uterus is a hollow organ in the pelvic region and forms a part of the female reproductive system. It houses the fetus through pregnancy and undergoes monthly changes during a woman’s menstrual cycle. The type of uterine cancer depends upon where it begins. The two most common ones are – endometrial cancer and uterine sarcoma. While endometrial cancer originates in the lining of the uterus, sarcoma arises from the muscular layer of the organ. Uterine cancer treatment options depend upon many factors such as presenting symptoms, type and stage of cancer at the time of diagnosis. Uterine cancer is the most common gynaecological cancer. Factors that can increase your risk for uterine cancer are obesity, late menses, age over 55 years, and family history. Uterine cancer life expectancy depends upon the stage and spread of cancer. The average five-year survival rate for uterine cancer is around 81%, giving it a good prognosis.

Symptoms

The signs of uterine cancer are often similar to those found in other gynaecological cancers. In the early stages, you may not notice any signs or symptoms but, as the cancer advances, some common symptoms that may appear are:

  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Unusual vaginal discharge
  • Pain in the lower abdomen or pelvic region
  • Frequent or prolonged menstrual bleeding if you are premenopausal
  • Pain during sex
  • Changes in bowel movements
  • Difficulty in urinating

In stage 3 and stage 4 uterine cancer (advanced stages), additional symptoms may also be observed when the cancer cells have migrated to other parts of the body.

Visit your GP if you are experiencing any of the above symptoms.

Diagnosis

If you are at risk for developing uterine cancer and are experiencing symptoms that may be indicative of it, your doctor may prescribe a few diagnostic tests that include:

  • Pelvic examination

Your doctor will begin the diagnosis by performing a thorough pelvic examination.

  • Transvaginal ultrasound

The ultrasound device is inserted through the vagina to enable your doctor to visualise the inner lining of the uterus for any abnormal changes.

  • Tumour marker test

This is a blood test that detects the levels of proteins like CA-125 ( a tumour marker). An increased level of this protein may be indicative of cancer.

  • Imaging test

Imaging tests like an x-ray, CT scan and MRI may be done to assess the location of any growth or presence of cancer cells in the uterus, nearby regions or if it has spread to distant parts of the body.

  • Hysteroscopy

A long, thin tube with a camera at its tip is inserted into the uterus via the cervix to give a detailed view of the inner part of the uterus.

  • Biopsy

If your other diagnostic tests indicate an abnormality in the uterus, a biopsy may be performed to confirm uterine cancer. The sample collected during a biopsy is also sent for further analysis to determine the stage and grade of your cancer.

Treatment

Based on your symptoms and diagnostic test results, your doctor and healthcare team will determine how to treat uterine cancer in your body. Though most people are worried about the side effects of radiation therapy or chemotherapy and uterine cancer, it is best to speak to your doctor about the benefits and risks of your suggested treatment options.

Most people with uterine cancer require surgery to remove the uterus. However, the decision to perform surgery depends upon your age and overall health.

Other uterine cancer treatment options are:

  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Hormone therapy
  • Immunotherapy
  • Targeted therapy

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