The most common cancer of the reproductive organs in American women is endometrial cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates that for the year 2017, around 61,380 new cases of cancer of the body of the uterus will be diagnosed and about 10,920 women will die from cancers of the uterine body. These figures include both endometrial cancers and uterine sarcomas.
Since endometrial cancer is a fairly common cancer in women, the more women know the facts about this disease, the greater their chance of knowing what symptoms to be aware of in order to have it diagnosed as early as possible, improving the likelihood of survival.
Here are 10 facts all women should be know about endometrial cancers:
1. It forms in the lining of the uterus
Endometrial cancer starts in the lining of the uterus. This lining is called the endometrium. The endometrium is the mucous membrane lining the uterus, which thickens during the menstrual cycle in preparation for possible implantation of an embryo. In the early stages, the disease is asymptomatic until it reaches a later, more advanced stage. This makes it imperative women seek medical care when they first have symptoms.
2. There is no known cause
At this time, the exact cause of endometrial cancer is unknown. Some researchers believe that there is a factor that triggers a genetic mutation within cells in the endometrium. Healthy cells grow, multiply and then die at a specific rate. Cancerous or abnormal cells grow and multiple out of control and do not die at a set rate. When this occurs, the abnormal cells accumulate and form a tumor.
3. Having a hormone unbalance may increase risk
One factor that may contribute to endometrial cancer risk is when there is a change in the balance of the hormones estrogen and progesterone with an increase in estrogen that could increase a woman’s risk for developing the disease. The balance between these two hormones fluctuates during a woman’s menstrual cycle. Estrogen causes the thickening of the endometrium to prepare the uterus for pregnancy. After menopause, the ovaries stop producing estrogen and progesterone.
4. Risk factors for endometrial cancer
There are certain risk factors contributing to changes in the balance of estrogen and progesterone. These include the following:
· Polycystic ovary syndrome
· Menopausal hormone therapy containing only estrogen – these cause higher estrogen and lower progesterone levels in the body
· Early menstruation before the age of 12
· Starting menopause after the age of 50
· A woman who has never been pregnant
5. Abnormal uterine bleeding is a warning sign
A warning sign of endometrial cancer is abnormal uterine bleeding. This may present as prolonged bleeding or bleeding between normal periods before menopause and vaginal bleeding or spotting after menopause. About 10 percent of women may notice an abnormal, non-bloody vaginal discharge. Other warning signs might include pelvic pain, a palpable mass, or losing weight without trying which are more common in late stage endometrial cancer.
6. Diagnosing endometrial cancer
There are several diagnostic procedures to detect and diagnose endometrial cancer. These include a pelvic exam, a transvaginal ultrasound, a hysterectomy to examine the uterus, or a biopsy of uterine tissue to examine. If cancer is detected, than other diagnostic testing will be done to stage the cancer. Staging defines if the cancer has spread to nearby tissue or other parts of the body.
7. There are 4 stages of endometrial cancer
Stages of endometrial cancer range from 0-4. Stage 0 is called carcinoma in situ, which means cancerous cells are found on the surface of the endometrium. Stage 1 means abnormal cells have grown into the endometrium and possible into the myometrium which is the muscular wall of the uterus. Stage 2 means the cancer has invaded the cervix. Stage 3 indicates the cancer has invaded nearby tissue including the vagina and lymph nodes. Stage 4 means metastasis to the bladder, intestines, and possible other parts of the body such as the liver, bones, and lungs.
There are several treatment options which could include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and hormone therapy. A woman will be under the care of a gynecologist and an oncologist who specializes in gynecological cancers.
9. If diagnosed early, it has a 92 percent survival rate
The good news about endometrial cancer is if it is diagnosed early, the estimate one year survival rate is 92 percent. If the cancer has not spread, there is a 95 percent five year survival rate. If the cancer has metastasized, the five year survival rate is 23 percent.
10. The chance of a woman developing endometrial cancer increases with age
A woman has a one in 40 chance of developing endometrial cancer during her lifetime. Most cases occur between the ages of 60 and 70 years, but in rare instances, it may develop before the age of 40.