Cancer of the uterus usually affects the endometrium (lining of the uterus). If it is found and treated early, the cure rate is very good. The more advanced the disease is, the lower the cure rate. Hence, early detection of uterine cancer is important.
What is Cancer?
In normal cells, growth and division are controlled by genes within the cell. Sometimes, cell division and growth is abnormal. These abnormal cells multiply out of control and interfere with normal functions within the body.
A tumour is a tissue growth made up of abnormal cells. The tumour may be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Although benign tumours are made up of abnormal cells, these cells do not metastasize, ie. they do not spread to other parts of the body.
Malignant cells metastasize. The cancer cells may grow directly into other tissues or they may detach from the original tumour site and spread through the body via blood or lymph vessels. As the cancer cells continue to multiply, they invade normal cells and interfere with normal bodily function.
What are the Risk Factors of Uterine Cancer?
Cancer of the uterus is rare in women under 40 years of age. It most often occurs in women between the ages of 60-75.
Some risk factors of uterine cancer are:
- Irregular ovulation and often missing periods
- Having a late menopause
- Having polycystic ovarian disease
- Having endometrial hyperplasia (abnormal thickening of the endometrium)
- Having cancer of the ovary, breast, or colon
- Family history of uterine cancer
It is also thought that some women who take oestrogen alone after menopause may be at risk for cancer of the uterus. The hormone oestrogen is often given after menopause to replace the hormone that is no longer produced by the ovaries. If oestrogen is given along with another hormone, progesterone, this combination protects against the risk of uterine cancer that may be linked to oestrogen taken alone.
Women who have used birth control pills that contain oestrogen and progesterone have a reduced risk of uterine cancer. This protection persists for at least 10 years after a woman stops taking the pill.
What are the Symptoms of Uterine Cancer?
Currently, there are no routine screening methods for uterine cancer. Early detection of the disease often involve women reporting their symptoms such as:
- Abnormal bleeding
- Abnormal spotting
- Discharge that is watery and foul-smelling
Except when combination hormone therapy is being taken, any bleeding or spotting after menopause is abnormal. If you experience bleeding or spotting after having menopause, consult a doctor right away.
How is Uterine Cancer Diagnosed?
- Clinical examination by a doctor
- Endometrial biopsy - tissue sample from the uterus is extracted and examined in a lab
- Hysteroscopy - a hysteroscope is used to examine the inside of the uterus
- Dilatation and curettage (D&C) - tissue is extracted from the uterus and cervix lining for lab examination
What are the Treatment Options for Uterine Cancer?
- Hysterectomy (removal of the uterus)
- Salpingo-oophorectomy (removal of the ovaries and fallopian tubes)
- Radiation therapy
- Hormone therapy
How Can We Prevent Uterine Cancer?
- Report any abnormal vaginal bleeding promptly to your doctor
- Get a yearly pelvic exam
- Eat a healthy diet.
- A diet that prevents obesity can help prevent cancer. Eat foods that are low in fat and cholesterol and high in fibre.