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Endometrial Cancer

Endometrial, or uterine, cancer is a general term sometimes used to describe cancers that can develop in different parts of a woman's uterus (womb). Overall, uterine cancers are the most common type of cancer in the female reproductive tract.  Endometrial cancer and cervical cancer are types of uterine cancer.

There are several types of endometrial cancer, but the one that affects the majority of women is adenocarcinoma, a malignancy that begins with the uterine cells that make and release mucus and other fluids.

Risk factors for endometrial cancer include age (over 50 and after menopause), prolonged used of estrogen-based hormone replacement therapy (HRT), obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, tamoxifen usage, and a previous diagnosis of endometrial hyperplasia (a potentially pre-cancerous condition). Caucasian women also have a higher risk of developing uterine cancers than women of other races. Younger women who have significantly abnormal ovulation and menstruation patterns face an increased risk of developing uterine cancer at a much younger age. 

Symptoms of endometrial cancer include bleeding or unusual vaginal discharge, difficulty urinating, pain when urinating, pain during intercourse, and pain in the pelvic area.  There is no routine screening for women at normal risk for endometrial cancer, so it's important to talk with your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms.

How is it diagnosed?
How is it treated?
How does Advocate Christ Medical Center make a difference?
Frequently Asked Questions
Genetic Cancer Risk Assessment Program

How is it diagnosed?

In addition to a pelvic examination, your physician may recommend one of the following diagnostic tests to determine the cause of these symptoms:

  • Pap test (also called a Pap smear)-which can identify unusual cells from the cervix (the lower part of the uterus).  However, the Pap test does not collect tissue from inside the uterus and, therefore, cannot identify endometrial cancer.
  • Transvaginal ultrasound-which uses high-frequency soundwaves to create a picture of the uterus.  For a transvaginal ultrasound, the doctor or technician inserts an ultrasound instrument into the vagina to help obtain a clearer image.
  • Biopsy-which removes a small amount of tissue from the lining of the uterus.  The tissue is analyzed in a pathology lab for signs of cancer, hyperplasia or other conditions.
  • Dilation and curettage (D&C)-a minor operation in which the cervix is dilated (expanded) so that the cervical canal and uterine lining can be scraped with a curette (spoon-shaped instrument). Tissue samples are then analyzed in the pathology lab.

If cancer cells are found, your doctor may order additional tests to see if the cancer has spread to other organs or parts of the body.  Additional testing might include:

  • Blood tests
  • Chest X-ray
  • Computed tomography (CT or CAT scan)-a diagnostic imaging procedure that combines multiple X-rays and computer technology to produce cross-sectional images ("slices") of organs, bones, muscle and other tissue.  CT scans help the doctors know whether the cancer has spread beyond the ovaries.
  • Ultrasound-which uses high-frequency soundwaves to create a moving, real-time image of the internal organs.

Advocate Christ Medical Center has a genetic cancer risk assessment program that offers genetic counseling and testing for families who are at high risk for endometrial cancer.

How is it treated?

The primary treatment for endometrial cancer is surgery.  Chemotherapy, radiation therapy and hormonal therapy also may be used to treat endometrial cancer.

Surgery - surgical removal of the uterus, including the cervix, is recommended for most women diagnosed with endometrial cancer.  This surgery is known as a hysterectomy, and can be done through an incision in the abdomen or through the vagina. In most cases, the surgeon also will remove the woman's ovaries and fallopian tubes, to dramatically reduce the body's production of estrogen and to minimize the risk of cancer spreading. Removal of the ovaries and fallopian tubes is called a bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy and can usually be done at the same time as the hysterectomy, so the woman doesn't need to schedule two separate operations. The surgeon also may remove some pelvic lymph nodes to help determine whether or not cancer has spread.

Chemotherapy - uses special medications taken intravenously or orally to destroy cancer cells.  Patients usually have chemotherapy several times a week for several weeks.

Radiation therapy - uses high-power X-rays or radiation to destroy cancer cells and shrink tumors.  There are several ways to give radiation therapy.  External radiation therapy is delivered from a linear accelerator from outside the body. Internal radiation therapy (also called "brachytherapy" or "intracavitary radiation") involves placing a cylinder containing radioactive isotopes inside the vagina.  Lower-dose brachytherapy may be left in place overnight and require a hospital stay; higher-dose brachytherapy may be left in place for about 1 hour and is done on an outpatient basis several times a week.

Hormone therapy - uses hormones or hormone-blocking medication.  Because endometrial cancer is related to the hormone estrogen, doctors sometimes recommend progesterone and other progestin drugs, or gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GNRH) agonists to help slow the growth of endometrial cells.

How does Advocate Christ Medical Center make a difference?

From diagnostic testing, through treatment, and life-long follow-up, gynecologic oncology physicians and nurses at Advocate Christ Medical Center provide personalized care for women with gynecologic cancers and pre-cancerous conditions. 

Surgical treatment of gynecologic cancers can result in urinary incontinence or pelvic prolapse. Our female reconstructive urology services help women regain urinary control.  Reconstructive urologists at Christ Medical Center utilize a range of surgical and non-surgical techniques, such as medications for bladder control, injection of Botox and other agents, and surgical creation of an artificial urinary sphincter.

Our gynecologists, gynecologic oncologists, radiation oncologists, reconstructive urologists, pathologists, oncology nurses and other care providers all work collaboratively to meet each woman's specific needs. 

Through our cancer genetics program, Christ Medical Center provides genetic testing and counseling for women at high risk for uterine cancer because of a family history of gynecologic or breast cancer, or because of other genetic factors.  Our team works closely with women as they weigh the pros and cons of options that may lower their cancer risk. 

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