Endometrial (Uterine) Cancer: Symptoms, Stages, Causes, Medicines & Treatments
Commonly asked questions about endometrial (uterine) cancer:
- What is endometrial (uterine) cancer?
- Endometrial (uterine) cancer risk factors
- Endometrial (uterine) cancer causes
- Endometrial (uterine) cancer symptoms
- Endometrial cancer treatments
- How to prevent cancer
- What drugs are used to treat endometrial (uterine) cancer?
What Is Endometrial (Uterine) Cancer?
Endometrial cancer begins its development in the uterus – the hollow, pear-shaped organ located in a women’s pelvis for fetal development. The cancer develops in the lining (endometrium) of the organ, triggering abnormal growth in the layer’s cells.
While other forms of cancer can develop in the uterus, endometrial cancer is the most common of the uterine based cancers.
Because of the vaginal bleeding triggered by the disease, it is often detectable at an early stage of development. When the cancer is detected and prompt medical care is sought, a procedural removal of the uterus typically results in the elimination of the cancer risk.
It is estimated that over 60,000 individuals are diagnosed with endometrial cancer each year with nearly 10,470 deaths occurring in the same time-span. These figures, while grim, showcase the effectiveness of endometrial treatment and detection methods.
Although endometrial cancer constitutes 3.6% of new cancer cases, it only causes 1.8% of cancer related deaths. With a five-year survival rate of 81.7%, those who seek treatment early in development have an exceptionally high chance of survival.
Endometrial (Uterine) Cancer Risk Factors
Who Is At Risk Of Developing Endometrial (Uterine) Cancer?
Medical research has identified several factors that typically indicate a heightened risk for endometrial cancer development. Risk factors applying to an individual does not mean they will develop endometrial cancer, the risk factors just indicate factors associated with a higher cancer development rate than is standard.
Individuals who develop endometrial cancer may never experience any of the proceeding risk factors, regardless of risk factor presence women should be vigilant of endometrial cancer possibilities.
The most prominent risk factor associated with endometrial cancer development is a hormonal imbalance relating to estrogen. The level of estrogen in the body is not a factor in development, but the balance of the hormone and progesterone is. When the two hormones are not kept in balance, women can begin to develop health problems that culminate in the elevation of the developmental risk.
Although an imbalance cannot be visually identified by an individual, there are resources available to assist in determining whether the body is suffering from a hormonal imbalance.
There are several factors – some under the control of an individual – that are rooted in the creation of such an imbalance.
These factors include:
- Obesity – Fat cells create extra estrogen that cannot be matched by natural progesterone output
- Taking Tamoxifen – This drug reduces breast cancer risk while increasing the risk of endometrial cancer
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome – Triggers overproduction of estrogen
- Estrogen Enhancers
In addition to estrogen based risk factors, there are other factors that are routinely associated with abnormally high rates of endometrial cancer development, including:
- Age – Endometrial cancer is most common in women over 50
- Genes – Inheriting genes, like those for Lynch Syndrome
- Health Complications – Type 2 diabetes or endometrial hyperplasia
- Pregnancy – Lack of pregnancy carries high development rate
- Medical Treatments – Pelvic radiation therapy
How Can I Reduce My Risk Of Endometrial (Uterine) Cancer?
Most of the time, an individual is unable to take measures that will result in the total elimination of endometrial cancer risk. However, there are several steps that can be taken to minimize the risk of development as much as possible.
These efforts involve lifestyle changes that will result in a healthier estrogen-progesterone hormonal balance.
A major way to reduce the risk of endometrial cancer is to adopt a healthy diet while increasing physical activity to maintain a healthy weight. Obese women suffer from endometrial cancer nearly 3.5 times more than those who maintain a healthy weight. Pursuing a healthy lifestyle can lead to the necessary weight loss to eliminate estrogen producing fat cells.
Consulting with a medical professional about hormonal therapy is another way to reduce the risk of endometrial cancer. Studies have shown that combining estrogen treatments with progestin drugs can help maintain a healthy hormonal balance – reducing the risk of endometrial cancer.
Seeking proper and prompt medical treatment for pre-cancerous endometrium disorders as another way to effectively lower endometrial cancer risk. Endometrial cancer has been documented developing from less serious endometrium conditions, prompt treatment will help eliminate this risk.
In cases of severe risk – women with hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer, HNPCC or Lynch syndrome – a preemptive hysterectomy may be recommended once an individual has finished having children. A hysterectomy is the most effective way to reduce risk as it results in an endometrial cancer risk of nearly 0%.
Endometrial (Uterine) Cancer Causes
What Causes Endometrial (Uterine) Cancer?
While risk factors are known, the exact cause of endometrial cancer hasn’t been scientifically proven. However, the process of endometrial cancer genetic mutation is known in extreme depth.
Whatever the exact cause is, it triggers a genetic mutation of cells within the endometrium – the lining of the uterus.
Normally, healthy cells grow and multiply at a rate that ensures a constant supply of cells to replace naturally dying cells. When mutated, cells grow and multiply at an uncontrollable rate and don’t die in the typical time frame. This leads to a massive accumulation of abnormal cells that can quickly become a tumor.
The massive cancer growth can occur as hormonal imbalances cause the uterus to get thicker and thicker, giving cells the ability to grow. If left to develop, a tumor can metastasize. Metastasizing is the process in which cancer cells spread to other parts of the body, an act that increases the danger of a cancer exponentially.
What Are Medical Causes Of Endometrial (Uterine) Cancer?
While most cases of endometrial cancer occur in accordance with the aforementioned risk factors, there have been instances in which development occurred after failed medical efforts for other complications.
Power morcellators are devices used to break up tissue in the uterus to decrease the difficulty of a myomectomy or hysterectomy procedure. However, the device poses a major health risk in potentially spreading dormant endometrial cancer cells to other parts of the body. An individual can contain dormant cancer cells in their uterus that may not pose a risk to their health at that moment.
However, when a power morcellator breaks apart tissue, the blades may cause dormant cells to become active and spread to other organs close to the uterus. When these cells are able to spread, cancer may begin to rapidly develop in other organs.
Endometrial (Uterine) Cancer Symptoms
Endometrial cancer is a serious condition that requires immediate medical attention upon discovery in order to minimize the fatality risk.
The most common symptom of endometrial cancer is abnormal vaginal bleeding or spotting, even if this occurs during normal stages of menopause a doctor should be consulted as a precaution.
Additional symptoms of endometrial cancer include:
- Vaginal Bleeding After Menopause
- Bleeding Between Periods
- Watery or Bloody Vaginal Discharge
- Pelvic/Back/Leg Pain
- Loss of Appetite
Endometrial (Uterine) Cancer Treatments
How Can Endometrial (Uterine) Cancer Be Treated?
In similar fashion to other types of cancer, there are several effective treatment methods available to those diagnosed with endometrial cancer. If pursued early enough, treatment will be able to completely eliminate the cancer and greatly reduce the risk of recurrence.
The intensiveness of the required surgery to treat endometrial cancer hinges on the developmental stage of the cancer.
If a cancer is in stage one of development, surgery will come in the form of a hysterectomy in which both ovaries and fallopian tubes will be removed in addition to the uterus. During this procedure, the medical professional may take lymph node samples to test for advanced stages of cancer.
In the event that tests determine the cancer has advanced to stage two or three, surgery may involve the additional removal of the upper portion of the vagina, the cervix, and the pelvic lymph nodes. This procedure is called a radical or total hysterectomy and often requires post-surgery radiation or chemotherapy.
While an intensive surgery, an endometrial cancer that has reached stage four development requires even more surgery to effectively treat. This surgery – called debulking surgery – requires the removal of all cancer infected areas. At this stage a surgery may not be able to offer a cure for the cancer but still eases effects of symptoms.
Radiation therapy is frequently used post-surgery to eradicate any remaining cancer cells that may have endured through surgery. This therapy uses powerful energy beams like X-rays and protons to kill cancer cells.
This treatment method utilizes hormonal medications to balance hormonal imbalances which may help reduce the rate in which cancer cells grow. Some of these medications increase progesterone levels while others decrease estrogen levels. Neither of these medication methods are commonly use as they report lower effective rates than other widely available treatment methods.
Chemotherapy uses chemicals that or administered through pill, injection, or IV to kill cancer cells. This method is frequently used on those who suffer from advanced stages or recurrent endometrial cancer that may have spread throughout the body. By traveling through the bloodstream, the chemical is able to kill all cancer cells regardless of their location.
Supportive (Palliative) Care
This method is not used to cure endometrial cancer but rather works on providing relief from pain and symptoms. A specialist will work with the afflicted and their support system to bolster the emotional and mental support system needed to persevere through aggressive treatments.
How to Prevent Cancer
Cancer prevention can vary based on different research, and opinionated studies or news reports. However, these simple lifestyle changes can make a difference in the prevention of developing or forming cancer.
- Eat healthy
- Limit or stop your use of tobacco
- Have a balanced lifestyle
- Avoid risky behavior
- Visit your doctor
- Protect your skin from the sun
What Drugs are Used to Treat Endometrial (Uterine) Cancer?
The following drugs and medications are in some way related to, or used in the treatment of endometrial (uterine) cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute:
- Megestrol Acetate