Endometrial cancer is a type of uterine cancer that begins in the innermost lining of the uterus called the endometrium. This is often detected in its early stages due to frequent abnormal vaginal bleeding and other symptoms and can be easily cured by surgically removing the uterus. However, if left untreated this can metastasize to distant organs and prove to be fatal.
Symptoms of endometrial cancer
The most important and common symptom is abnormal vaginal bleeding, other potential symptoms include:
- Varying length and heaviness of periods
- Inter menstrual bleeding
- Postmenopausal bleeding
- Bloody vaginal discharge
- Pain in pelvis
- Drastic weight loss
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Generalized body aches and lethargy
Causes of endometrial cancer
The exact cause is still unknown. However, some recent researches and studies conclude that fluctuating levels of estrogen and progesterone in the body play a significant role in endometrial cancer.
Fluctuation in the levels of the sex hormones affects the endometrial growth pattern. A high level of estrogen causes an increase in endometrial growth, sometimes due to genetic changes these cells get trapped in the growth cycle and show an abnormal pattern of multiplication and become cancerous.
Stages of endometrial cancer
Endometrial cancer metastasizes from the uterus to other organs, over time. Stages are based on the extent of growth or spread.
- Stage 1: Cancer is limited to the uterus.
- Stage 2: Cancer has also included the cervix.
- Stage 3: Cancer has spread outside the uterus to the fallopian tubes, ovaries, vagina, and regional lymph nodes but has still not reached the rectum or bladder.
- Stage 4: Cancer has spread beyond the pelvis and has involved the bladder, rectum, and other distant organs like the brain, heart, lungs, and liver.
Types of endometrial cancer
There are different types depending upon the cell type involved. Some of these are given below:
- Adenocarcinoma: The most common type of endometrial cancer, develops from the glandular tissue.
- Squamous cell carcinoma
- Small cell carcinoma
- Serous carcinoma
- Transitional carcinoma
- Uterine carcinosarcoma
The risk of getting endometrial cancer increases with the age, some other risk factors include:
- Age group between 45 to 75 years old
- Family history of endometrial, colorectal, or breast cancer
- Early menarche
- Late menopause
- History of infertility
- History of granulosa cell ovarian tumor
- Use of medications like tamoxifen
- Women on estrogen replacement therapy
- Women who have endometrial hyperplasia
Endometrial cancer cannot be prevented but the risk of getting it can be reduced by taking a few measures:
- Patients on hormonal replacement therapy should talk to their doctor and take a combination of estrogen and progesterone, instead of estrogen alone to lower the risks
- Using birth control pills
- Loose weight
- Exercise regularly and maintain a healthy lifestyle
Management of endometrial cancer
Endometrial cancer can be easily managed if diagnosed early and often patients get complete recovery.
For diagnosis, a series of investigations are conducted:
- Blood tests to look for any ongoing infection
- Pelvic examination
- Pelvic ultrasound to look for any mass and rule out other possible causes
- Endometrial biopsy to confirm the presence of cancer cells
There are several options available, depending upon the extent of the disease and metastasis.
- Endometrial cancer is treated by doing a hysterectomy. This may also include bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy along with hysterectomy
- After determining the stage of the disease your surgeon might remove regional lymph nodes as well
- If cancer has metastasized, your doctor will suggest further surgeries too to make you cancer-free
Hormone therapy is advised for stage 3, stage 4, and remission of cancer. This is often prescribed with chemotherapy.
This involves the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. The drugs can be given orally or via the intravenous route.
Radiation therapy involves energy beams to kill cancer cells. There are methods to focus these energy beams; external and internal. These are used after the surgical process to kill remaining cancer cells.
When to consult a doctor?
If you notice any pattern of abnormal vaginal bleeding and other symptoms such as sudden unexplained weight loss and loss of appetite, you should consult your doctor.
What are the warning signs of endometrial cancer?
Abnormal vaginal bleeding and pain in the pelvic area are major warning signs.
Is endometrial cancer curable?
Yes, in most cases total hysterectomy and salpingo-oophorectomy at early stages give complete relief from cancer.
Is endometrial cancer agressive ?
No, it spreads and progresses slowly, thus, can be detected at early stages and treated on time.