Endometrial cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the endometrium.
The endometrium is the lining of the uterus, a hollow, muscular organ in a woman’s pelvis. The uterus is where a fetus grows. In most nonpregnant women, the uterus is about 3 inches long. The lower, narrow end of the uterus is the cervix, which leads to the vagina.
Cancer of the endometrium is different from cancer of the muscle of the uterus, which is called sarcoma of the uterus.
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Risk factors for endometrial cancer include the following:
- Being obese
- Having high blood pressure
- Having diabetes mellitus
- Taking tamoxifen for breast cancer or taking estrogen alone (without progesterone) can increase the risk of endometrial cancer.
Endometrial cancer may develop in breast cancer patients who have been treated with tamoxifen. A patient taking this drug should have a pelvic exam every year and report any vaginal bleeding (other than menstrual bleeding) as soon as possible. Women taking estrogen (a hormone that can affect the growth of some cancers) alone have an increased risk of endometrial cancer. Taking estrogen combined with progesterone (another hormone) does not increase a woman’s risk of this cancer.
Signs and symptoms of endometrial cancer include unusual vaginal discharge or pain in the pelvis.
These and other signs and symptoms may be caused by endometrial cancer or by other conditions. Check with your doctor if you have any of the following:
- Bleeding or discharge not related to menstruation (periods)
- Difficult or painful urination
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Pain in the pelvic area
Tests that examine the endometrium are used to detect (find) and diagnose endometrial cancer.
Because endometrial cancer begins inside the uterus, it does not usually show up in the results of a Pap test. For this reason, a sample of endometrial tissue must be removed and checked under a microscope to look for cancer cells. One of the following procedures may be used:
- Endometrial biopsy: The removal of tissue from the endometrium (inner lining of the uterus) by inserting a thin, flexible tube through the cervix and into the uterus. The tube is used to gently scrape a small amount of tissue from the endometrium and then remove the tissue samples. A pathologist views the tissue under a microscope to look for cancer cells.
- Dilatation and curettage: A procedure to remove samples of tissue from the inner lining of the uterus. The cervix is dilated and a curette (spoon-shaped instrument) is inserted into the uterus to remove tissue. The tissue samples are checked under a microscope for signs of disease. This procedure is also called a D&C.
- Physical exam and history
- Transvaginal ultrasound exam
- CT scan
- Five types of standard treatment are used:
- Radiation therapy
- Hormone therapy
- Biologic therapy
- New types of treatment are being tested in clinical trials.
- Targeted therapy
National Cancer Institute: PDQ® Endometrial Cancer Treatment. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. Date last modified <04/22/2014>. Available at: https://cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/endometrial/Patient. Accessed <09/01/2014>.
Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.