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Endometrial Cancer

Endometrial cancer of the uterus, sometimes referred to as uterine cancer, is the most common cancer of the reproductive system. It develops in the uterus, though most endometrial cancers develop in the endometrial glands that line the inner wall of the uterine cavity, rather than in the uterus' muscular wall.

Although endometrial cancer usually occurs after menopause, it also may occur around the time that menopause begins. Abnormal vaginal bleeding is the most common symptom of uterine cancer. Bleeding may start as a watery, blood-streaked flow that gradually contains more blood. Women should not assume that abnormal vaginal bleeding is part of menopause.

You should see your doctor if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Unusual vaginal bleeding or discharge
  • Difficult or painful urination
  • Pain during intercourse
  • Pain in the pelvic area

If you have symptoms that suggest endometrial cancer, your doctor may check general signs of your health and order blood and urine tests. Your doctor also may perform one or more of the exams or following tests:

  • Pelvic Exam — A pelvic exam is done to check a woman's vagina, uterus, bladder and rectum. The doctor feels these organs for any lumps or changes in their shape or size. To see the upper part of the vagina and the cervix, the doctor inserts an instrument called a speculum into the vagina.
  • Pap Test — For a Pap test, the doctor collects cells from the cervix and upper vagina. A medical laboratory checks for abnormal cells. Although the Pap test can detect cancer of the cervix, cells from inside the uterus usually do not show up on a Pap test. This is why the doctor collects samples of cells from inside the uterus in a procedure called a biopsy.
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There are a number of ways to treat endometrial cancer, including the following.

Surgery

Most women with uterine cancer have surgery to remove the uterus through an incision in the abdomen — this procedure is called a hysterectomy. If the doctor also removes the fallopian tubes and the ovaries, this procedure is called a bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy.

Hormonal Therapy

If the cancer has spread to other parts of your body, synthetic progestin, a form of the hormone progesterone, may stop it from growing. The progestin used in treating endometrial cancer is in different doses than the progestin used in hormone replacement therapy for menopausal women. Some different medications may be used as well.

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Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.