Uterine Cancer and Effective Treatments
In the United States, approximately 42,000 women each year are diagnosed with uterine cancer—the most common malignancy of the female genital tract and the fourth most common cancer in women.1
Uterine cancer forms in tissues of the uterus. Cancer cells can appear in the uterine lining (endometrium) and in the muscle or other tissues in the uterus (uterine sarcoma). Types of uterine growths include fibroids, polyps, adenomyosis, hyperplasia and endometrial cancer.
Signs and symptoms of uterine (endometrial) cancer
Possible signs of uterine cancer include unusual vaginal discharge or pelvic. Other conditions may cause the same symptoms. You should contact your healthcare provider if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Bleeding or discharge not related to menstruation (periods)
- Bleeding after menopause
- Irregular bleeding in between menstrual cycles or after sexual intercourse
- A mass in the vagina
- Frequent, difficult or painful urination
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Increasing or different pelvic pain or cramping
- A thin white (or pink) watery discharge from the vagina
- Increased pelvic pressure, particularly if associated with changes in bladder or bowel patterns
Uterine cancer tests and procedures
Physical Exam and History
One of the first things you can do if you are suffering any gynecological pain is see your gynecologist. He or she will perform an exam to check general signs of health, including checking for signs of uterus pain, lumps or anything else that seems unusual. A history of your health habits, past illnesses and treatments will also be taken.
A pelvic exam involves an initial look at the vagina, cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries and rectum. The doctor or nurse inserts one or two gloved, lubricated fingers into the vagina while the other hand is placed over the lower abdomen to feel the size, shape and position of the uterus and ovaries. A speculum is also inserted into the vagina and the doctor or nurse looks at the vagina and cervix for signs of disease. A Pap test or Pap smear of the cervix is usually done. The doctor or nurse also inserts a gloved, lubricated finger into the rectum to feel for lumps.
Testing for Endometrial Cancer
Tests that examine the endometrium are used to detect and diagnose endometrial cancer. Because endometrial cancer begins inside the uterus, it does not usually show up in the results of a Pap test. For this reason, a sample of endometrial tissue must be removed and examined under a microscope to look for cancer cells. Two common procedures for sampling endometrial tissue are:
- Endometrial Biopsy: An endometrial biopsy involves the removal of tissue from the inner lining of the uterus by inserting a thin, flexible tube through the cervix and into the uterus. The tube is used to gently scrape a small amount of tissue from the endometrium and then remove the tissue sample. A pathologist will then view the tissue under a microscope, looking for the presence of abnormal cells.
- Dilatation and Curettage (D&C): Curettage is a surgical procedure to remove samples of tissue from the inner lining of the uterus. The cervix is dilated and a curette (a metal loop on the end of a long, thin handle) is inserted into the uterus to remove tissue. Tissue samples may be taken for biopsy.
Prognosis and Treatment Options
The prognosis and treatment options for cancer of the uterus depend on the following:
- The stage of the cancer—whether it is in the endometrium only, involves the whole uterus or has spread to other places in the body.
- How the cancer cells look under a microscope.
- Whether the cancer cells are affected by progesterone.
Uterine Cancer Treatment Options
A new, minimally invasive approach involving robotic surgery is quickly becoming the treatment of choice at Gwinnett Medical Center–Duluth and for surgeons worldwide. A robotic hysterectomy combines the advantages of conventional open and minimally invasive hysterectomies—but with far fewer drawbacks.
It is performed using the da Vinci® robot, which enables surgeons to perform surgical procedures with unmatched precision, dexterity and control.
Learn more about the benefits of robotic hysterectomy versus the traditional open hysterectomy.
Download a FREE brochure to learn about robotic procedures offered at Gwinnett Medical Center–Duluth.
Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy X-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells. There are two types of radiation therapy:
- External radiation therapy—Uses a machine outside of the body to send radiation toward the cancer.
- Internal radiation therapy—Uses a radioactive substance sealed in needles, seeds, wires or catheters that are placed directly into or near the cancer. The way the radiation therapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.
Hormone therapy is a cancer treatment that either removes hormones or blocks their action to stop cancer cells from growing. Hormones are substances produced by glands in the body and circulated in the bloodstream. The presence of some hormones can cause certain cancers to grow. If tests show that the cancer cells have places where hormones can attach—called receptors—drugs, surgery or radiation therapy are used to reduce the production of hormones or block them from working.
Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping the cells from dividing. Chemotherapy can be either systemic, reaching cancer cells throughout the body via the bloodstream, or regional, targeting cancer cells in specific body parts or areas. The method chosen depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.2
For a physician referral, call 678-312-5000 or click here to find a doctor and search “robotic surgery.”
As with any surgical procedure, these benefits cannot be guaranteed as surgery is both patient- and procedure- specific.
1Jemal A, Siegal R, Ward E, Murray T, Xu J, Smigal C, et al. Cancer statistics, 2006. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians 2006;56;1006-30.
2 National Cancer Institute. www.cancer.gov URL: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/endometrial/Patient/page4