What is it?
It’s a cancerous tumour in your uterus, the pear-shaped organ also known as your womb. Most women get it in the lining of the uterus (endometrium), but you can get tumours in the muscles there, too.
About 7,700 women are diagnosed each year and if you’re past menopause, your chances are higher.
Another factor is your genetic make-up as that can make increase your risk for uterine cancer. For example, Lynch syndrome is a genetic disorder that makes you more likely to get certain kinds of cancer, and women with it have a much higher chance of getting uterine cancer.
But having a problem gene doesn’t mean you’ll get it — it just means you and your doctor should watch for signs so you can treat it early if you do.
What to look for
If you haven’t been through menopause and you have bleeding or spotting (a red, pink, or white discharge) that occurs between periods, see your doctor. The same is true if you’ve been through menopause and have these same symptoms any time.
Bleeding can be a sign of uterine cancer, but it’s also a symptom of a few other medical problems. It can be normal for some women but see your doctor first to identify the cause accurately.
Let your doctor know if you have:
• Pain in your pelvis
• Lost weight without trying
• Pain during sex
• A hard time peeing or it hurts to pee
Early diagnosis is best so don’t put off your a checkup or ignore symptoms.
How it’s diagnosed and treated
You may have an ultrasound so your doctor can see inside your uterus, and they may send a tiny telescope in through your vagina to get a closer look. But a biopsy is the best way to know if it’s cancer where a small amount of tissue is taken from the lining to look for cancer cells under a microscope.
If you have uterine cancer, your doctor will start with one or more of the following to see if it’s spread to nearby organs, like your cervix, or to your lymph nodes (tiny glands in your neck, armpits, and groin):
• MRI scan, which uses powerful magnets and radio waves to make detailed images of parts of your body
• CT scan, which takes X-rays from different angles and puts them together to make a more complete picture
If you have uterine cancer a hysterectomy is generally first recommend to remove the uterus and your ovaries and fallopian tubes will probably be removed, too. If your cancer has spread, your doctor also may take out nearby lymph nodes.
Your doctor may recommend radiation after surgery to kill any cancer cells that may still be there. It may also be an option if surgery isn’t a good idea for you. Also you will probably be offered hormone therapy as oestrogen and other hormones in your body can make uterine cancer grow or spread faster.
Other drugs like progestins, tamoxifen, LHRH agonists, and aromatase inhibitors block these hormones to slow the tumour’s growth. This can cause side effects that feel like menopause, including hot flashes, weight gain, or dryness in your vagina.
Some newer drugs use your own cells against the tumour. Antibodies are what your body produces to knock out bugs that make you sick and in targeted therapy these are put into your blood to find and destroy the cancer cells. These smart bombs also can carry tiny bits of radiation straight to your tumour to help in the attack.
Consequences of uterine cancer
Unfortunately the side effects of such cancer treatment can change your sex life. Vaginal dryness or mood changes from hormone therapy may make sex painful or curb your desire.
If you’ve had surgery to remove both your ovaries and uterus, you may have the same issues but some women say their sex lives actually get better after surgery because they have less pain and other symptoms.
While most women who get uterine cancer are past menopause, younger women can get it, too so if you want to have a family you must take to your doctor about your options before starting treatment. They may offer you the possibility of storing eggs before you begin treatment.
What can you do?
Although your age, genes, and family history may raise your chance of uterine cancer, but you can do some things to help prevent it. Having hormone balance is critical as excess oestrogen is linked to a number of hormonal cancers so balancing that with bioidentical progesterone can help reduce your risk.
If you have diabetes or high blood pressure, those are additional risk factors so get those under control and maintain a healthy weight. Try a hormone balancing diet, and get in the habit of exercising regularly, whether that’s at a gym, a zumba class, a regular brisk walk or anything else you enjoy that you will make part of your routine of self care.