Uterine Cancer: Symptoms and Treatment

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What Is It? It’s a cancerous tumor in your uterus, the pear-shaped organ also known as your womb. Most women get it in the lining of the uterus (endometrium), but you can get tumors in the muscles there, too. About 62,000 women in the U.S. get this cancer each year. If you’re past menopause, your chances are higher.

Your Genes

These can play a role in how likely you are to have uterine cancer. For example, Lynch syndrome is a genetic disorder that makes you more likely to get certain kinds of cancer, and women with it have a much higher chance of getting uterine cancer. But having a problem gene doesn’t mean you’ll get it — it just means you and your doctor should watch for signs so you can treat it early if you do. It’s important to note that most women who get uterine cancer don’t have Lynch syndrome or an identified genetic cause.

Early Signs

If you haven’t been through menopause and you have bleeding or spotting — a red, pink, or white discharge — between periods, see your doctor. The same is true if you’ve been through menopause and have these same symptoms at any time. Bleeding can be a sign of uterine cancer, but it’s also a symptom of a few other medical problems. Bleeding after menopause is not normal, so it definitely needs to be evaluated. Your doctor can help you figure out what’s going on.

Other Symptoms

Let your doctor know if you have:

  • Pain in your pelvis (the area between your hips)
  • Lost weight without trying
  • Pain during sex
  • A hard time peeing or it hurts to pee

It’s best if you find uterine cancer before it grows or spreads, so don’t put off your checkups or ignore symptoms.


How It’s Diagnosed

You may have an ultrasound so your doctor can see inside your uterus, and she may send a tiny telescope in through your vagina to get a closer look. But a biopsy is the best way to know if it’s cancer: Your doctor will take a small amount of tissue from the lining and look for cancer cells under a microscope.

Has It Spread

If you have uterine cancer, your doctor will start with one or more of the following to see if it’s spread to nearby organs, like your cervix, or to your lymph nodes (tiny glands in your neck, armpits, and groin):

  • Ultrasound
  • MRI scan, which uses powerful magnets and radio waves to make detailed images of parts of your body
  • CT scan, which takes X-rays from different angles and puts them together to make a more complete picture

Surgery

Your doctor probably will recommend that your uterus be taken out. This sometimes can be done with only a few tiny cuts in your abdomen (your uterus is then taken out through your vagina). The procedure is called a hysterectomy, and your ovaries and fallopian tubes will probably be removed, too. If your cancer has spread, your doctor also may take out nearby lymph nodes. 

Radiation

Your doctor may recommend this after surgery to kill any cancer cells that may still be there. It may also be an option if surgery isn’t a good idea for you. Your doctor will put tiny radioactive seeds near your tumor or beam radiation at your uterus to kill harmful cells. New types of radiation treatment make a 3-dimensional beam that’s the exact shape of the tumor.


Hormone Therapy

Estrogen and other hormones in your body can make uterine cancer grow or spread faster. Drugs like progestins, LHRH agonists and other therapies are used to block these hormones to slow the tumor’s growth. This can cause side effects that feel like menopause, including hot flashes, weight gain, or dryness in your vagina.

Targeted Therapy

Some newer drugs use your own cells against the tumor. Antibodies are things your body makes to knock out bugs that make you sick. In targeted therapy, your doctor puts antibodies into your blood to find and destroy the cancer cells. These smart bombs also can carry tiny bits of radiation straight to your tumor to help in the attack.

Clinical Trials

You may be able to be part of a test for new and better drugs to treat uterine cancer. Ask your doctor if there are trials in your area and if one might be right for you.

Your Sex Life

Side effects of uterine cancer treatment can change your sex life. Vaginal dryness or mood changes from hormone therapy may make sex painful or curb your desire. If you’ve had surgery to remove both your ovaries and uterus, you may have the same issues. But lubricants can help with dryness, and some women say their sex lives actually get better after surgery because they have less pain and other symptoms.


Pregnancy

While most women who get uterine cancer are past menopause, younger women can get it, too. If you hope to have children, talk to your doctor about your options, such as storing eggs, before you begin treatment — surgery, radiation, and hormones can affect your fertility. 

Can You Prevent It? Get regular women’s health checkups so your doctor can spot any signs of cancer early. Your age, genes, and family history may raise your chance of uterine cancer. So can obesity. You can, though, do some things to help prevent it, like stay at a healthy weight and get plenty of exercises. And work closely with your doctor, who can help you control the risk factors that can be controlled 🙂 🙂

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