According to MD Anderson Cancer Center, uterine cancer -- cancer that begins in the uterus -- is the most common cancer of the female reproductive system in the United States. The uterus is the hollow, pear-shaped pelvic organ where fetal development occurs.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) say the most common type of uterine cancer is also called endometrial cancer because it forms in the uterine lining, called the endometrium. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) report the exact cause of this cancer is unknown. Increased levels of estrogen appear to play a role. Estrogen helps stimulate the buildup of the lining of the uterus.
There are risk factors that increase the risk of endometrial/uterine cancer. According to the Mayo Clinic, fluctuations in the balance of estrogen and progesterone cause changes in the endometrium. A disease or condition that increases the amount of estrogen, but not the level of progesterone, can increase the risk of endometrial cancer.
The Mayo Clinic also lists starting menstruation at an early age or beginning menopause later; never being pregnant; older age; inherited colon cancer syndrome and taking the hormone therapy drug tamoxifen for breast cancer all increase the risk of developing endometrial cancer.
NIH reports diabetes, infertility, infrequent periods, obesity and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) are other risk factors.
MD Anderson says fortunately, most uterine cancers are discovered early because of warning signs such as irregular or postmenopausal bleeding. Other symptoms are premenopausal or perimenopausal bleeding; abnormal vaginal discharge; pelvic pain or pressure, usually occurring in later stages of the disease and weight loss.
Treatment options for uterine cancer include surgery, radiation therapy, hormone therapy and chemotherapy.
The Mayo Clinic says most women with these types of cancer undergo a hysterectomy to remove the uterus, as well as the fallopian tubes and ovaries.
Radiation therapy uses powerful energy beams to kill cancer cells. MD Anderson lists two types of radiation therapy. External beam radiation involves a series of radioactive beams precisely aimed at the tumor from outside the body.
Brachytherapy involves tiny radioactive seeds that are inserted through the vagina into the uterus wherever cancer cells are located. The seeds remain in place for two to three days and then are removed.
Hormone therapy involves taking medications that affect hormone levels in the body. Mayo Clinic says medications either increase the amount of progesterone or lower the levels of estrogen.
In chemotherapy, chemicals are used to kill cancer cells. Patients receive one chemotherapy drug, or a combination of two or more drugs. These drugs are given orally or intravenously.
Endometrial cancer. MayoClinic.com by Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. Web 30 Aug 2011.
Endometrial cancer. PubMed Health by National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine. Web 30 Aug 2011.
Uterine Cancer. MDAnderson.org by the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Web 30 Aug 2011.
Uterine Cancer. CDC.gov by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Web 30 Aug 2011.
Reviewed September 1, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Jody Smith