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Endometrial cancer

Endometrial cancer is cancer that starts in the lining of the uterus (called endometrium). Endometrial cancer is the growth of abnormal cells in the lining of the uterus. Endometrial cancer is also called cancer of the uterus, or uterine cancer.

Endometrial cancer usually occurs in women older than 50. The good news is that it is usually cured when it is found early. And most of the time, the cancer is found in its earliest stage, before it has spread outside the uterus.

Endometrial cancer causes and risk factors

Endometrial cancer is the most common type of uterine cancer. Although the exact cause of endometrial cancer is unknown, increased levels of estrogen appear to play a dramatic role. The main cause of most endometrial cancer is too much of the hormone estrogen compared to the hormone progesterone in the body.

In general estrogens are responsible for the lining of the uterus (endometrium) grow thicker. Progesterone “opposes” estrogen – progesterone level goes up then drops at the end of each menstrual cycle, making the thick endometrium layer shed away. This is what we know as menstrual bleeding.

When there is too much estrogen in the body, progesterone can’t do its job. The endometrium gets thicker and thicker. If the lining builds up and stays that way, then cancer cells can start to grow. Over time, the endometrium cells can become cancerous.

Most cases of endometrial cancer occur between the ages of 60 and 70 years, but a few cases may occur before age 40.

The biggest risk factor for endometrial cancer is having too much estrogen and not enough progesterone. Women who have mentioned hormone imbalance over time may be more likely to get cancer endometrial after age 50. This hormone imbalance can happen if a woman:

  • Is obese. Fat cells make extra estrogen, but the body doesn’t make extra progesterone to balance it out.
  • Takes estrogen without taking a progestin – Estrogen only hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
  • Has polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and chronic anovulation, which causes hormone imbalance.
  • Starts her period before age 12 or starts menopause after age 55.
  • Has never been pregnant or had a full-term pregnancy.
  • Has never breast-fed.

The following factors can increase the risk of cancer endometrial:

  • Diabetes,
  • Estrogen replacement therapy without the use of progesterone,
  • History of endometrial polyps or other benign growths of the uterine lining,
  • Infertility (inability to become pregnant),
  • Infrequent irregular periods,
  • High blood pressure (hypertension),
  • Tamoxifen, a drug for breast cancer treatment,
  • Colon or breast cancer,
  • Gallbladder disease,
  • Previous radiation therapy to the pelvis.

Endometrial cancer symptoms

In most cases the early stages of endometrial cancer can cause symptoms. The most common symptom of endometrial cancer is unexpected (abnormal) bleeding from the vagina after menopause. When a post-menopausal woman has vaginal bleeding, the first thing that needs to be looked into is the possibility of cancer endometrial. However, some of the other symptoms are occasionally non-specific, and don’t always point toward a diagnosis of cancer endometrial. As a tumor grows in size, it can produce a variety of problems including:

Endometrial Cancer

  • vaginal bleeding (in a post-menopausal woman),
  • abnormal bleeding after age 40 (including bleeding in between periods, or heavier/longer lasting menstrual bleeding),
  • abnormal vaginal discharge (thin white or clear or may be foul smelling),
  • vaginal spotting after menopause,
  • losing weight without trying,
  • pelvic or back pain,
  • pain on urination,
  • pain on sexual intercourse,
  • blood in the stool or urine.

All of these symptoms are non-specific, and could represent a variety of different conditions; however, your doctor needs to see you if you develop any of these problems.

Endometrial cancer diagnosis and treatment see on next page.

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