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Uterine cancer is a disease caused by uncontrolled growth of cells in the uterus. If the tumor cells spread throughout the body, then the disease is called metastatic uterine cancer. Uterine cancer includes both endometrial cancer and uterine sarcoma.
Most cases of uterine cancer begin from the cells that line the inside of the womb. These cells are known as endometrial cells, and the lining itself is called the endometrium. The majority of this type of cancer appears in women who are past menopause. Sufferers are usually between 50 and 70 years of age. The cancer can produce symptoms such as pelvic pain, unusual bleeding, and abnormal vaginal discharge.
A less common form of uterine cancer is uterine sarcoma. This cancer affects the cells of the muscle in the womb. As with all malignant cancers, these cells multiply abnormally and can be fatal.
The site where a tumor begins is known as the primary tumor. A primary tumor is referred to by the area of the body it began in, hence the name uterine cancer. Cancers can be either benign or malignant. Benign means that the tumor is not life threatening and that it will not spread. A malignant tumor can be life threatening and has the potential to spread. Only malignant tumors can metastasize.
Malignant tumors can shed cancerous cells from the primary tumor. These cells can then travel around the body through blood and lymphatic systems. The lymphatic network's usual role is to move immune system cells from place to place.
Cancerous cells can end up in different places around the body. Secondary tumors of lymph nodes close to the primary tumor are not regarded as metastatic cancer. If they settle in other organs or lymph nodes further away from the uterus, these new tumors mean that the disease is referred to as metastatic uterine cancer.
In cases of suspected metastatic uterine cancer, a doctor may take a biopsy of some cells or perform an ultrasound. Occasionally, the metastatic cancer does not produce any symptoms. Biopsies taken from the uterus and other areas can confirm the presence of the cancer. The tumors may also show up on the ultrasound.
Metastatic uterine cancer patients may have to undergo surgery to remove the tumors and a hysterectomy to remove the uterus. Radiation treatment or chemotherapy can help kill any remaining cancer cells. Hormone treatment may also help prevent the tumors from spreading.