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Uterine cancer is the most common cancer of the female reproductive tract, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Like all cancers, uterine cancer occurs when cells divide without control or order. (Read about "Cancer: What It Is") The American Cancer Society (ACS) says over 38,000 women discover they have uterine cancer each year. ACS estimates 6,600 die each year.
Cervical cancer (Read about "Cervical Cancer") is different from uterine cancer. It is important for a woman to understand that.
There are three main parts of the uterus:
There are different types of uterine cancer, depending on which cells become abnormal and where the cancer starts:
NCI says abnormal vaginal bleeding is the most common symptom of uterine cancer. Most uterine cancers show up after menopause but sometimes occur as menopause begins. (Read about "Menopause") NCI warns that abnormal bleeding should not just be viewed as part of menopause. Vaginal bleeding after menopause should be checked by a doctor at once.
Other symptoms that should send you to the doctor for an exam include:
Any other abnormal vaginal discharge should be checked by a doctor as well. (Read about "Vaginal Discharge")
As already mentioned, most of the time uterine cancer appears after menopause. Age therefore is a risk factor for uterine cancer. Other risk factors according to NCI are:
Many of the risk factors involve increased levels of estrogen. ACS says because of that, as they age, women need to discuss carefully with their doctor the advantages and disadvantages of ERT and any other medications that include hormones.
If uterine cancer is suspected, there are different tests that may be used, according to NCI:
If cancer of the uterus is found, more tests will be done to find out if cancer cells have spread to other parts of the body. This is called staging. A doctor needs to know the stage of the disease to plan treatment. The following stages are used for uterine cancer, according to NCI:
In stage I, cancer is found in the uterus only. Stage I is divided into stages IA and IB, based on how far the cancer has spread.
In stage II, cancer has spread into connective tissue of the cervix, but has not spread outside the uterus.
In stage III, cancer has spread beyond the uterus and cervix, but has not spread beyond the pelvis. Stage III is divided into stages IIIA, IIIB and IIIC, based on whether cancer has spread to the connective tissue holding the uterus in place, the ovaries, fallopian tubes, vagina and lymph nodes in the pelvis. (Lymph nodes are small, bean-shaped structures that are found throughout the body. They filter substances in a fluid called lymph and help fight infection and disease.) (Read about "The Lymph System")
In stage IV, cancer has spread beyond the pelvis. Stage IV is divided into stages IVA and IVB, based on whether cancer has spread to the lining of the bladder (the sac that holds urine), to the bowel, or to lymph nodes or other parts of the body beyond the pelvis. (Read about "The Urinary System")
NCI says most women with uterine cancer are treated with surgery. Some have radiation therapy. A smaller number of women may be treated with hormonal therapy. Some patients receive a combination of therapies. (Read about "Cancer Treatments")
The main treatment for uterine cancer is surgery called hysterectomy. (Read about "Hysterectomy") At the same time, the ovaries (Read about "The Ovaries") and the fallopian tubes are also removed (bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy). When the ovaries are removed, menopause occurs at once if a woman is not already in menopause. Any surgery should be done by a physician experienced in cancer surgery.
If the cancer has not spread, then the surgery will leave the patient cancer free. Radiation is also used in many cases. (Read about "Radiation Therapy") Radiation may be administered from an external source. It may also be administered by implanting a small amount of radioactive material in or near the cancer. Chemotherapy may also be used in some cases, according to NCI, either in addition to surgery or in place of it if surgery is not an option. If the cancer is being fueled by a woman's hormones, hormone therapy can be used to reduce the production of hormones or block them from working. Biologic therapy is another treatment option. It uses the patient's immune system to fight cancer. (Read about "The Immune System") Substances made by the body or made in a laboratory are used to boost, direct, or restore the body's natural defenses against cancer. This type of cancer treatment is also called biotherapy or immunotherapy.
More Cancer Information:
For a list of individual types of cancer, see Cancer: What It Is
All Concept Communications material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.
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