Cancer of the Uterus (Cancer of the Endometrium, Endometrial Cancer, Uterine Cancer)
Cancer of the uterus is the most common cancer of the female reproductive organs in the United States. A woman's average chance of being diagnosed with this cancer during her lifetime is about 1 in 38.
The uterus (womb) is a hollow organ, about the size and shape of a medium-sized pear, where a fetus grows when a woman is pregnant.
The uterus has two layers: the inner lining called the endometrium and the outer layer of muscle known as the myometrium.
Hormonal changes during a woman's menstrual cycle cause the endometrium to thicken. If there is no pregnancy, this thick lining is shed and becomes the menstrual flow (period).
Most cancers of the uterus start in the cells of the endometrium and are called endometrial carcinomas. Over 80 percent of endometrial cancers begin in the glandular cells of the endometrium and are called endometrioid adenocarcinomas.
The majority of women diagnosed with endometrial cancer have already gone through menopause, but this disease can occur in younger women as well. Risk factors include:
- Abnormal overgrowth of the endometrium (endometrial hyperplasia)
- Never having been pregnant
- First menstrual period before age 12
- Menopause after age 55
- History of taking estrogen alone (without progesterone) for menopausal hormone therapy
- History of taking tamoxifen
- History of having radiation therapy to the pelvis
- Family history of uterine cancer
Women should receive annual pelvic exams to catch endometrial cancers in the earliest stage of development, when they are most treatable.
If you experience the following symptoms, see your doctor.
- Abnormal bleeding or discharge from the vagina
- Cramps in the belly area that won't go away
- An unexplainable weight loss or gain
- Pelvic or back pain
- Pain on urination
- Pain on sexual intercourse
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