Endometrial cancer is a cancer that forms in the tissue lining the uterus (the small, hollow, pear-shaped organ in a woman’s pelvis in which a fetus develops). Most endometrial cancers are adenocarcinomas (cancers that begin in cells that make and release mucus and other fluids).
In the United States cancer of the endometrium, also known as endometrial carcinoma is the most frequently diagnosed gynecologic cancer. Cancer, known as uterine sarcoma, can also arise from the uterus’s muscle layer but it is far less common. To treat uterine cancer, a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy is usually necessary. Options may also include clinical trials.
If you have symptoms that suggest uterine cancer, your doctor will try to find out what’s causing the problems. You may have a physical exam and blood tests. Also, you may have one or more of the following tests:
If cancer is found, the pathologist studies tissue samples from the uterus under a microscope to learn the grade of the tumor. The grade tells how much the tumor tissue differs from normal uterine tissue. It may suggest how fast the tumor is likely to grow. Tumors with higher grades tend to grow faster than those with lower grades. Tumors with higher grades are also more likely to spread. Doctors use tumor grade along with other factors to suggest treatment options.
If uterine cancer is diagnosed, your doctor needs to learn the extent (stage) of the disease to help you choose the best treatment. The stage is based on whether the cancer has invaded nearby tissues or spread to other parts of the body.
When cancer spreads from its original place to another part of the body, the new tumor has the same kind of abnormal cells and the same name as the primary (original) tumor. For example, if uterine cancer spreads to the lung, the cancer cells in the lung are actually uterine cancer cells. The disease is metastatic uterine cancer, not lung cancer. It’s treated as uterine cancer, not as lung cancer. Doctors sometimes call the new tumor “distant” disease.
In most cases, surgery is needed to learn the stage of uterine cancer. The surgeon removes the uterus and may take tissue samples from the pelvis and abdomen. After the uterus is removed, it is checked to see how deeply the tumor has grown. Also, the other tissue samples are checked for cancer cells.
Whether you are coming to us with a first-time diagnosis or recurrent uterine cancer, our goal is to develop a cancer treatment plan personalized to your needs and lifestyle. Treatment planning begins with establishing the stage of the disease.
Age, overall health, and fertility issues are also relevant considerations when building a treatment plan. By utilizing the latest treatment and technology options available our multidisciplinary team of doctors will work with you to create a cancer treatment plan that maximizes cancer-fighting resources while minimizing the impact of the treatment on the rest of your body.
Treatment options for people with uterine cancer are surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and hormone therapy. You may receive more than one type of treatment.
Surgery is the most common treatment for women with uterine cancer. You and your surgeon can talk about the types of surgery (hysterectomy) and which may be right for you.
The surgeon usually removes the uterus, cervix, and nearby tissues. The nearby tissues may include:
Surgery to remove lymph nodes may cause lymphedema (swelling) in one or both legs. Your health care team can tell you how to prevent or relieve lymphedema.
Radiation therapy is an option for women with all stages of uterine cancer. It may be used before or after surgery. For women who can’t have surgery for other medical reasons, radiation therapy may be used instead to destroy cancer cells in the uterus. Women with cancer that invades tissue beyond the uterus may have radiation therapy and chemotherapy.
Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. It affects cells in the treated area only.
Doctors use two types of radiation therapy to treat uterine cancer. Some women receive both types:
Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. It may be used after surgery to treat uterine cancer that has an increased risk of returning after treatment. For example, uterine cancer that is a high grade or is Stage II, III, or IV may be more likely to return. Also, chemotherapy may be given to women whose uterine cancer can’t be completely removed by surgery. For advanced cancer, it may be used alone or with radiation therapy.
Chemotherapy for uterine cancer is usually given by vein (intravenous). It’s usually given in cycles. Each cycle has a treatment period followed by a rest period.
Some uterine tumors need hormones to grow. These tumors have hormone receptors for the hormones estrogen, progesterone, or both. If lab tests show that the tumor in your uterus has these receptors, then hormone therapy may be an option.
Hormone therapy may be used for women with advanced uterine cancer. Also, some women with Stage I uterine cancer who want to get pregnant and have children choose hormone therapy instead of surgery. The most common drug used for hormone therapy is progesterone tablets.
Visit the National Cancer Institute where this information and more can be found about Endometrial Cancer including side effects of treatments, support information and more. Or ask your cancer care team questions about your individual situation.