What is cancer? Normal healthy cells in the body grow, divide, and replace themselves regularly. This process keeps the body healthy. Sometimes cells develop abnormally and begin to grow out of control. If this occurs, tumors begin to form. Tumors can be benign (not cancer) or malignant (cancer). Benign tumors do not spread to other parts of the body and are usually not harmful. Malignant tumors invade nearby healthy parts of the body and can spread to more distant body parts.
There are different types of uterine cancer. The most common type is endometrial cancer, which affects the endometrium or lining of the uterus. Another type of uterine cancer affects the muscle of the uterus. This type of cancer is more rare, but more aggressive. This article will focus on the most common type of uterine cancer, endometrial.
Endometrial cancer is the most common type of gynecologic cancer in the United States. About two or three out of every 100 women will develop uterine cancer. Uterine cancer most often occurs in women around 60 years of age, and is uncommon in women under age 40.
The risk of cancer can be inherited in a person’s genes, or in some cases can be caused by exposure to certain substances. A woman’s health status, including weight classification is also an important consideration. Certain factors increase the risk of developing endometrial cancer, including:
• Infrequent menstrual periods
• Never having a baby
• Starting menstrual periods at an early age
• Late menopause
• History of cancer of the ovary or colon
• Use of Tamoxifen to treat or prevent breast cancer
• Family history of endometrial cancer
• History of diabetes, hypertension, gallbladder disease, or thyroid disease
• Long-term use of estrogen without progesterone to treat menopause
Signs of uterine cancer include abnormal bleeding or discharge between periods, heavy or prolonged bleeding during periods, or bleeding or spotting after menopause. Although bleeding changes in women in age group 40 and older are largely related to normal menopausal transition, it is important to rule out cancer. Peri-menopause begins with the onset of cycle irregularity and finishes one year after the last menstrual cycle. Thus, menopause begins one year after the last menstrual cycle. In the United States the average age of menopause is 51.4 years of age. Any abnormal bleeding or discharge, especially after menopause, should be evaluated by your health care provider.
There are no screening tests to detect endometrial cancer in women who have no symptoms. Most women who have endometrial cancer have early symptoms. Several methods are available to detect whether endometrial cancer is present. Talk with your health care provider about any signs or symptoms you may have to determine the best diagnostic testing.
Remember, you can reduce your cancer risk by adopting a healthy lifestyle, maintaining a healthy weight and paying attention to your body – and, of course, having regular checkups with your health care provider.