Uterine cancer affects more than 40,000 women in the United States every year and thousands more worldwide have the disease. In fact, uterine cancer is the fourth most common cancer affecting females. Knowledge about uterine cancer is not widespread and, often, the cancer is not diagnosed until it is in its advanced stages. As a result, many women die from the disease. In order to ensure quick and appropriate treatment, it is important that all women be aware of the signs and symptoms of uterine cancer.
What is Uterine Cancer?
Cancer can affect pretty much any part of your body, from your lungs to your cervix. Cancer is caused when cells in your body begin to malfunction and divide rapidly, causing the growth of excess tissues, called tumors. Uterine cancer is caused by these cancerous cells that grow rapidly in parts of the uterus. Uterine cancer accounts for about 6% of all female cancers. Of the 40,000 women diagnosed in the United States every year, about 7,000 will die from the disease. There are actually two types of uterine cancer: endometrial cancer and uterine sarcomas.
Endometrial cancer is the most common type of uterine cancer, accounting for about 95% of all uterine cancer cases. Endometrial cancer is a type of cancer that develops in the lining of your uterus, which is called the endometrium. The endometrium is the part of your body that thickens every month in preparation for pregnancy. If you do not become pregnant, then your endometrium will shed during menstruation. There are three types of endometrial cancer:
- Adenocarcinoma: This type of cancer develops on the surface of the endometrium. It is the most common type of endometrial cancer, accounting for 90% of all cases. It is usually associated with perimenopausal women.
- Papillary Serous Carcinoma: This type of cancer accounts for 10% of endometrial cancer cases.
- Clear Cell Adenocarcinomas: This is the most aggressive type of endometrial cancer. It is usually only detected at advanced stages.
Unlike endometrial cancer, uterine sarcoma takes root in the muscles and supporting tissues of the uterus. Uterine sarcomas are much more rare, with only about 1,000 women developing this type of cancer every year. Again, there are three types of uterine sarcomas:
- Endometrial Stromal Sarcoma: This type of sarcoma develops in the supporting tissues of the endometrium. It is the least common type of uterine sarcoma.
- Uterine Leiomyosarcomas: Leiomyosarcomas develop in the muscular walls of the uterus. This is the second most common type of uterine sarcoma.
- Uterine Carcinosarcomas: Carcinosarcomas are the most common form of uterine sarcoma. They actually begin forming in the endometrium and gradually spread.
Stages of Uterine Cancer
The progression of uterine cancer is measured in stages, with stage 1 being the earliest and stage 4 being the most advanced. If you have uterine cancer, it is essential to be diagnosed as soon as possible. Survival rates decline, sometimes severely, with each stage of uterine cancer. The stages are:
Stage 1: Stage 1 marks the onset of uterine cancer. During this stage, cancer cells are present only in the uterus.
Stage 2: In stage 2, the uterine cancer has spread from the uterus to the cervix.
Stage 3: During this stage, cancer cells have spread outside the uterus, but remain in the pelvic cavity. Cancerous cell may be located in the pelvic lymph nodes.
Stage 4: Stage 4 is the most advanced stage of uterine cancer. During this stage, cancer cells have spread to the bladder, rectum, or other body parts outside the pelvic cavity.
Uterine Cancer Symptoms
In order to catch the cancer in its earliest stages, it is important to monitor yourself for signs and symptoms of uterine cancer, especially if you are at high risk of developing the disease. Symptoms of endometrial cancer and uterine sarcoma include:
- irregular vaginal bleeding
- painful urination
- pain during intercourse
- pelvic pain or discomfort
Uterine cancer is most common among middle-aged and elderly women, and typically onsets between the ages of 50 and 70. However, it is not unheard of for younger women to develop the disease. There are other risk factors that also seem to increase your risk of developing uterine cancer. These include:
- being obese
- having diabetes
- having high blood pressure
- early menarche or menopause
- engaging in long-term use of hormone replacement therapy
- having endometrial hyperplasia (increased number of cells in the uterine lining)
- having had previous colorectal cancer
- having used Tamoxifen, a breast cancer drug
- prior pelvic radiation therapy
Race also seems to play a factor in uterine cancer. Caucasians are much more likely to develop endometrial cancer, while African Americans are more likely to develop uterine sarcomas.
Once you have been diagnosed with uterine cancer, it is important to seek treatment quickly