Womb cancer, or cancer of the womb, is also known as uterine cancer or endometrial cancer. This type of cancer affects the womb, or uterus, and can begin in the lining, or endometrium, and sometimes in the myometrium, or muscles of the womb. Cancer that affects the myometrium is a different type of cancer called uterine sarcoma. Though womb cancer affects many women each year all around the world, it is considered a treatable form of cancer with a fairly high success rate if caught in the early stages.
Signs and symptoms of womb cancer include abnormal vaginal bleeding, either occurring between menstrual periods or after menopause, as well as unusual vaginal discharge, pain in the lower abdomen and occasionally pain or discomfort during intercourse. Granted, these symptoms could be the cause of other uterine conditions as well, but they should be discussed with your doctor or gynecologist, regardless of severity or onset.
The most common type of womb cancer is cancer that begins in the lining of the uterus. Cancer is the formation of cell masses, or tumors, that are diseased and may or may not spread. Similarly, when non-cancerous, or benign, cell masses or tumors form in the endometrium, this condition is known as endometriosis, a more common condition in women of various ages. Womb cancer, however, most commonly affects women over the age of 50.
Though the actual cause of womb cancer is unknown, certain factors are known to increase the risk of this type of cancer. Factors that may increase a woman’s chance of developing uterine cancer include age, hormone replacement therapy (HRT), obesity, and certain drugs, such as tamoxifen, a drug used to prevent and treat breast cancer. Race is considered another possible risk factor, as Caucasian women are more likely to get uterine cancer than African-American women. Family history is another possible risk factor.
Women are not typically screened specifically for womb cancer unless they are at an increased risk for developing the disease. However, diagnosis is achieved through pelvic exam, pap test, and biopsy. It is important to remember that this type of cancer is considered to have a high success rate for treatment and that rate increases with early detection. Though a gynecologist is frequently the diagnosing physician, patients are typically referred to an oncologist for treatment.
Treatment options are varied, but typically include some combination of surgery, radiation, and hormone therapy. Most women with cancer of the womb undergo surgery and have a hysterectomy, or removal of the uterus. Surrounding lymph nodes may also be removed for biopsy to determine if the cancer has spread. Radiation may be coupled with surgery to shrink a tumor prior to surgery or to destroy any remaining cancer cells. If a woman cannot have surgery, she might undergo radiation alone and begin taking progesterone to help protect the uterus and prevent further growth. It is important to discuss all treatment options with your doctor and, if necessary, to get a second opinion. Remember, as with all forms of cancer, early detection is key to the most successful treatment options.