The uterus is a female reproductive organ also referred to as the womb. It holds the foetus of the child till the time it is born. Uterine cancer is a malignant growth of the uterine cells. It is also referred to as endometrial cancer. The cells that grow inside the uterine lining as a result of uterine cancer could be harmless (benign) or they might become malignant, in which case treatment becomes necessary. The exact cause for this is not yet clear, but it has been observed that uterine cancer is more commonly observed in women who haven’t had children.
The most common symptom of impending uterine cancer is vaginal bleeding which is more frequent and in greater volume than normal. Women who notice a vaginal discharge might also have been affected by uterine cancer. It is also observed that women who are about to be affected by uterine cancer begin to feel discomfort or pain during urination or during sexual intercourse. Another commonly observed symptom is a general feeling of discomfort or sharp occasional pains in the pelvic area. For women above the age of 55 who are still menstruating, there is a high chance of contracting uterine cancer.
Patients diagnosed with uterine cancer could be placed in any one of four stages – Stage I, Stage II, Stage III and Stage IV. Stages I and II are considered low risk, Stage III is high risk, and Stage IV is close to being terminal because it has spread to other parts of the body. There is one more nomenclature called recurrent endometrial cancer in which the cancerous growth recurs after it has been cured once.
In Stage I, the cancer is limited in presence to the muscle layer of the uterus. In Stage II the cancerous growth is still within the uterus but it has also spread to the connective tissue of the cervix. In Stage III the cancer has spread outside cervix and uterus, but is within the pelvic region. And in Stage IV, the cancerous tissues are observed beyond the pelvis.
Like most other cancers, experts have still not been able to pinpoint any single cause for uterine cancer. The best we have is a list of risk factors, and women who carry these risks are more prone to the disease. For instance, women with hyper growth of endometrial tissue are more prone to uterine cancer. Abnormal ages for menopause (start below age of 12 and end after age of 55) have been observed to cause uterine cancer. Family history of this disease increases the chances of having it, and also leads to colorectal cancer. Obesity is a condition with high correlation with uterine cancer.
The origin of endometrial cancer is in the uterus, which is why a standard PAP Smear Test might not always show up the presence of uterine cancer. Doctors usually remove a piece of tissue from the endometrial area, and carry out certain tests. Some of these are:
Depending on which stage the cancer has been detected at (I to IV), the way the cancer is spreading (through blood or through lymph system), and how the cancerous cells actually look like under a microscope – these are all factors which determine how the uterine cancer would be treated. There are primarily five modes of treatment in use today. These procedures are – surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, and targeted therapy.
The best way to prevent endometrial cancer is by avoiding the risk factors and improve the protective factors. We already mentioned some of the likely causes/risk factors above. Some of the protective factors are use of oral contraceptives, regular physical activities, avoiding smoking etc. Although no direct correlation has been found, but it can still be confidently said that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and maintaining the correct weight can also help keep uterine cancer away.