Uterine Cancer

What is uterine cancer?

Uterine cancer refers to cancer that develops within the uterus. The uterus is part of the female reproductive system and is made up of two layers: the outer layer of muscle tissue known as the myometrium, and the inner layer or lining which is called the endometrium.

The two main types of uterine cancer include:

  • Endometrial cancer – cancer that develops in the lining of the uterus (endometrium). This is the most common type of uterine cancer
  • Uterine sarcoma – cancer that develops in the muscle tissue (myometrium). This accounts for 2-4% of all uterine cancer diagnoses

Uterine cancer is the most diagnosed gynaecological cancer in Australia and the fifth most common cancer in Australian women, with 2 743 women diagnosed with uterine cancer in 2016.

Stages of uterine cancer

Uterine cancer can be described in stages depending on the extent of the cancer.

Uterine cancer is typically staged using the FIGO (International Federation of Gynaecology and Obstetrics) system.

There are four stages of uterine cancer ranging from Stage I to Stage IV, which give an indication of the extent of the cancer and helps doctors plan your treatment and understand what your cancer looks like.

Within each stage (I-IV) there are sub-stages, listed from A through to D which describe the extent of the tumour.

Signs and symptoms of uterine cancer

Uterine cancer can be difficult to detect as there are often no symptoms during the early stages. However, as the disease progresses symptoms may include:

Abnormal vaginal bleeding

such as a feeling of choking when swallowing

Pelvic pain

Unexplained weight loss

Unpleasant smelling and/or watery discharge

Difficulty urinating

Pain

during sexual intercourse

Treatment for uterine cancer

Frequently asked questions

What are the risk factors for uterine cancer?

While the exact causes of uterine cancer are unknown, factors known to increase the risk of developing uterine cancer include:

  • Being post-menopausal
  • Increasing age
  • Beginning menopause at a later age or starting your menstrual cycle before the age of 12
  • Never being pregnant
  • High blood pressure or diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Having a family history of ovarian, uterine or bowel cancer
  • Hereditary conditions such as Cowden syndrome or Lynch syndrome
  • Pre-existing medical conditions such as ovarian tumours, polycystic ovarian syndrome and endometrial hyperplasia
  • Having hormone replacement therapy, particularly oestrogen only
  • Receiving hormone therapy for breast cancer (Tamoxifen)
How can uterine cancer be prevented?

To reduce the risk of developing uterine cancer, you should consider:

  • Using the contraceptive pill and intrauterine device (IUD) as contraceptive options
  • Speaking to your doctor about the most suitable type of hormone replacement therapy for you
  • Having a healthy, balanced diet with a variety of fruits and vegetables
  • Exercising regularly
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Receiving treatment for endometrial conditions
  • Undergoing preventive surgery for inherited conditions if recommended by your doctor
How is uterine cancer diagnosed?

There are many different tests that are used to diagnose uterine cancer, alongside a physical examination. This may include transvaginal ultrasound, endometrial biopsy or hysteroscopy and biopsy. Further tests may include x-ray, CT, MRI and PET scans to assess the extent of the cancer and if it has spread anywhere else.

References

For a full list of references, click here.
  1. Cancer Australia. (2020). Uterine cancer statistics. Retrieved on 8 April 2021 at https://www.canceraustralia.gov.au/affected-cancer/cancer-types/uterine-cancer/uterine-cancer-statistics
  2. Cancer Council Australia. (2021). Uterine cancer. Retrieved on 8 April 2021 at https://www.cancer.org.au/cancer-information/types-of-cancer/uterine-cancer
  3. Cancer Council Victoria. (2021). Uterine cancer. Retrieved on 8 April 2021 at https://www.cancervic.org.au/cancer-information/types-of-cancer/uterine_cancer/uterine-cancer-overview.html
  4. Mayo Clinic. (2020). Endometrial cancer. Retrieved on 8 April 2021 at https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/endometrial-cancer/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20352466
  5. American Society of Clinical Oncology. (2020). Uterine Cancer. Retrieved on 8 April 2021 at https://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/uterine-cancer/risk-factors-and-prevention
  6. American Cancer Society. (2019). Endometrial Cancer. Retrieved on 8 April 2021 at https://www.cancer.org/cancer/endometrial-cancer/causes-risks-prevention/prevention.html
  7. Victoria State Government. (2015). Uterine Cancer. Retrieved on 8 April 2021 at https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/ConditionsAndTreatments/uterine-cancer

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