Uterine Cancer in Women – Symptoms and Risk Factors of Endometrial Cancer
Cancer in women has been increasingly growing and making its presence felt in every part of the globe. Endometrial cancer is one of the most common cancers found in women and is growing at an alarming rate just like other cancer types such as breast cancer and cervical cancer.
The uterus or womb is a hollow, pear-shaped pelvic organ where the development of fetus occurs. The lining or the borderline of the uterus is known as the endometrium. The cancer cells begin developing in the inner lining of the uterus, it is known as cancer of the uterine endometrium or endometrial cancer.
Endometrial cancer is often used interchangeably with uterine cancer since it is the most common type, but both of these are different. Endometrial cancer is also known as type 1 uterine cancer or Adenocarcinoma. It is different from sarcoma which is another type of uterine cancer. Uterine sarcoma which is less than 5 percent of all the uterine cancers develops in the uterine muscle, connective tissue or bone.
How common is Endometrial Cancer?
This is the most common type of uterine cancer that accounts for about 80 percent of all the cases. According to a study in Journal of the National Cancer Institute, the rates of endometrial cancer are rising worldwide with the highest incidence in North America, Europe, and India.
Endometrial cancer is known to be commonly found in postmenopausal women. And researchers from the American Cancer Society and International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) found that in all the countries, incidence rates were alarming about 4-20 times higher in women aged 50 and above.
Symptoms of Endometrial Cancer
As soon as you notice few of the following symptoms, you must seek an appointment with the doctor. However, these symptoms could also be arising due to certain non-cancerous conditions.
In the initial phase, a woman may not have any symptoms, but when symptoms begin to develop, the most classic one is the unusual vaginal bleeding or spotting. This symptom can also occur as a normal part of menopause process but should be brought into the notice of the doctor.
However, if you completed the menopausal phase and still noticing bleeding, you should talk to the doctor without delay. Postmenopausal bleeding is referred to the bleeding that occurs after 12 months of no menstrual periods.
Other symptoms of endometrial cancer include:
- Watery or blood-tinged discharge from the vagina
- Bleeding or spotting in between periods
- Heavy bleeding that lasts longer
- Frequent vaginal bleeding over the age of 40
- Painful sexual intercourse
- Lower abdominal or pelvic pain
- Unexplained weight loss, fatigue, and bladder or bowel changes in advance stages
What causes Endometrial Cancer?
Experts don’t know what exactly the reason behind endometrial cancer, however, they suspect that high levels of estrogen might be linked to this disease. This is because when the balance of two female hormones progesterone and estrogen changes, the endometrium is also affected. According to a research, increased level of estrogen without equal increment in progesterone, can thicken the lining of the uterus or endometrium and raise the chances of cancer.
But what is known to experts is that the cancer of the endometrium begins due to a genetic mutation of normal cells. These normal or healthy cells grow and multiply at a definite rate and then die at a set time. But on the other hand, abnormal cells grow uncontrolled and don’t die at a set time. This accumulation of abnormal cells eventually forms a tumor. In severe cases, the tumor metastasizes or spread in other parts of the body.
Who is at risk of getting Endometrial Cancer?
Several risk factors have been identified to date. These include:
Age and menopause
Endometrial cancer mostly occurs in women beyond the age of menopause. Especially, those women who are in the age group of 60-70 years. If you are falling in this age group, keep a tab on the following risk factors as they could further increase the chances.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
This type of therapy is often used to treat menopause symptoms. Hormone replacement therapy that contains only estrogen hormone and not the progesterone can raise the odds of endometrial cancer.
Early menstruation and delayed menopause
Prolonged exposure to estrogen can lead to endometrial cancer. If a woman got her first period at the age of 12 as well as experienced late menopause, she would be at higher risk. The exposure to estrogen is also higher if a woman is infertile or never conceived a child.
Obese or overweight women are at 2-4 times higher risk of developing endometrial cancer. It is believed that body fat alters level of estrogen hormone.
The risk of getting endometrial cancer is 4 times high in women with diabetes.
Inherited colon cancer syndrome
Women, who have inherited a condition known as hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC), are likely to develop endometrial cancer.
Hormonal risk factors
Certain conditions related to hormones can raise the likelihood of getting endometrial cancer. These include:
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
- Benign growths in the endometrium (polyps)
- Use of tamoxifen (medicine to prevent breast cancer recurrence)
- Ovarian tumors that release estrogen
- Certain ovarian tumors such as granulosa which secretes estrogen
- Family history of endometrial or colon cancer
- History of radiation to the pelvis during cancer treatment
- Consuming high-fat diet
- Sedentary lifestyle
As always with the case of cancer, early detection is the key to fight against cancer. Though, unlike cervical cancer, there is no routine test for endometrial cancer. So, you must keep your doctor updated about the risk factors as well as any unusual symptoms you notice. If treated early, the survival rate is 5 years in women less than 50 years of age and it seems to be promising.