Uterine Cancer Treatment
The uterus is a pear-shaped organ inside a woman’s lower abdomen that is responsible for growing and supporting a baby until its birth. When uterine cancer occurs, normal cells change and begin to grow out of control and form tumors. Not all tumors inside the uterus are cancer, but any growth that is not normal should be examined by a doctor.
Cancer of the uterus is also called endometrial cancer and it is the fourth most common cancer overall and the seventh most common cancer for women. Uterine cancer has a good 5-year survival rate if it’s caught early. About 95% of women with stage 1 cancer will live five years or longer. Those numbers go down significantly if the cancer is found later and has spread to other tissues or organs. Only about 17% of these women will live longer than 5 years.1
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Uterine Cancer Symptoms
Not every woman will have the same symptoms and not all of these symptoms mean that you have uterine cancer. Just remember that any changes in the way your body normally works should be checked by your doctor. Here are some of the most common symptoms of uterine cancer:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding that’s watery and blood-streaked
- New or different spotting, drainage from the vagina or bleeding when you shouldn’t be
- Trouble urinating or painful urination
- Painful sex
- Pain in your very low belly or pelvis
There isn’t a standard screening test to monitor for uterine cancer, but your provider is more likely to find a problem if you make sure to attend all of your annual gynecologic exams and report any changes in your body early. Remember that a pap smear doesn’t test for uterine cancer.
Uterine Cancer Causes and Risk Factors
Some of the most common risk factors for uterine cancer include:
- You are older than 50 and have already gone through menopause
- You are overweight or obese
- You are white (Caucasian)
- You’ve had radiation therapy to your lower abdomen (pelvis) for another condition
- You eat a diet high in animal fats
- You have never had children
- You have a family history of colon cancer
Uterine Cancer Prevention
You can lower your risk of getting uterine cancer by controlling some of your risk factors. Not all factors can be changed (like your age or race) but some items, like keeping your blood sugar under control and even using birth control pills can lower the risk of uterine cancer.
Uterine Cancer Diagnosis
To diagnose uterine cancer, your provider will start by gathering information about your symptoms and your medical history. He or she will also perform a pelvic exam to feel the uterus and other structures inside your abdomen for anything abnormal.
If you haven’t had a pap smear, your provider will probably complete this test. Even though a pap smear doesn’t provide information about uterine cancer, it can sometimes detect other cellular changes in the reproductive organs that are helpful to know.
From here, your healthcare provider may perform X-rays or ultrasounds. An endometrial biopsyto collect tissue samples from the uterus itself for testing may also be performed. Biopsy is a very accurate way to diagnose uterine cancer, but if the test comes back normal and you still have abnormal bleeding from your vagina, your provider may want to do a dilation & curettage (D&C) to gather more tissue samples from the uterus.
Uterine Cancer Treatment
Treating uterine cancer will depend on several factors including the type of cancer you have, how advanced it is (stage), side effects of treatment, and future fertility. Common procedures to treat uterine cancer include:
- Surgery to remove the uterus and surrounding tissue (hysterectomy)
- Hormonal medications to slow the growth of the tumor
Uterine Cancer Support
Everyone will handle their cancer diagnosis in different ways. This is okay. If you complete treatment and the cancer is gone, you may still be afraid that it will return. Make sure to keep all follow-up appointments and tests your provider schedules and be sure to ask questions about your chance that the cancer could return.
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1All statistics from American Cancer Society