Uterine Cancer Symptoms
Important Information on Uterine Cancer Symptoms
For many women, menopause means a cessation of pregnancy worries, periods and cramping; it can also mean an increased risk for uterine cancer. Symptoms of this disease should be well known by women approaching menopause for early detection and treatment.
Cancers of the reproductive organs
There are five major types of cancers that affect a woman’s reproductive organs; vaginal, vulvar, ovarian, cervical and uterine. Cancer affects normal cells in any part of the body, causing them to grow in an unmanageable way. The location of the body that is first affected by this abnormal growth determines the name for the disease. As a group, cancers that are discovered within the reproductive organs are referred to collectively as gynecological cancer; individually, they are coined by the location, such as uterine cancer.
About the uterus
The uterus is an organ which can be magically transformed. When not pregnant, a woman’s uterus measures a mere 3 or 4 inches in length. However, when an embryo implants itself into the uterus and begins to develop and grow, the uterus responds by extending its size up to approximately 12 inches. The organ works with the ovaries and the fallopian tubes to assist in pregnancy, including the monthly menstruation that acts as a type of “fire drill” in anticipation for the actual event. Located between the hip bones, the uterus is a muscular organ that has the ability to contract powerfully and then relax. It is lined with special layers to provide a hospitable environment for a possible fetus. The endrometrium is the innermost layer; designed to provide a snug, safe place for the baby. This is the layer that sheds each month during menstruation. The next layer is the myometrium; a flexible muscle that enables the uterus to expand. Last is perimetrium; a thin layer that protects the other layers.
Cancer of the uterus
The fourth most common type of cancer in women affects the uterus. Women who enter the menopausal stage of life are at the greatest risk for developing this cancer, and as of now, there is no known method for preventing the disease. The cancer generally affects the endometrial lining, and therefore causes abnormal bleeding; a telling signal for women whose periods have come to a stop through menopause.
The difficulty that women and their doctors face with this type of cancer is that there is no simple manner of testing for it unless there are symptoms. Signs to watch for include:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding
- Prolonged bleeding between periods
- Abnormal vaginal discharge (not bloody)
- Pain in the pelvic area
- Pain during sex
- Unexplained weight loss
If any of these uterine cancer symptoms should occur, it is critical to schedule a visit to a gynecologist. A complete physical, pelvic examination and discussion of family health history will be completed. To obtain an accurate diagnosis, the doctor may then order other tests such has an endometrial biopsy, a transvaginal ultrasound, a pap test and a D and C (dilation and curettage). These tests are able to provide a more complete picture of what is happening within the uterus and help the doctor to determine the final diagnosis and resulting treatment.
Stages of cancer
If cancer is the diagnosis, a gynecological oncologist will be called in for treatment. The first step will be to determine the extent of the cancer through additional tests.
Stage I: the cancer is restricted to the uterus
Stage II: the cancer is found in both the uterus and cervix
Stage III: pelvic lymph nodes may have also become involved, but not the bladder or rectum
Stage IV: the cancer has spread beyond the pelvic region to affect the bladder, rectum and possibly other areas of the body.
It is important to note that when uterine cancer is detected in the early stages, treatment can be very effective and have successful results.
Surgery is generally performed, with the removal of the uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries often result. The pelvic lymph nodes are also frequently removed. If the cancer appears to be aggressive, radiation, chemotherapy and hormone therapy may follow.
Uterine cancer cannot be prevented; however, there are steps women can take to decrease their risk of the disease. Obesity elevates the estrogen levels which increase the risk, so maintaining a healthy weight, including getting plenty of exercise, is important. Using birth control pills for a prolonged period can also reduce the risk, as does taking hormone therapy with progestin.
Fortunately, most uterine cancer symptoms are recognized and detected in the early stages. Women entering menopause should be well versed on the signs to watch for and be prepared to take immediate action if seen.