Endometrial cancer develops when this process occurs in the cells of the endometrium. This type of cancer is sometimes referred to as uterine cancer or cancer of the uterus. The uterus (womb) is a part of the female reproductive system. It is the place where a fetus grows and develops. The endometrium is the inner lining of the uterus and the part of the uterus where almost all uterine cancers develop.
Who is at Risk?
A RISK FACTOR increases the likelihood that you will develop a disease. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will develop a disease. Different cancers have different risk factors. Risk factors for endometrial cancer include:
Age – The risk of endometrial cancer increases with age. Most women are over the age of 40 at the time of diagnosis.
Ethnicity – White women are more likely to develop this disease.
Family History – Endometrial cancer runs in families. If you have a mother or sister who has been diagnosed with endometrial cancer you may be at increased risk. In some instances there is an inherited tendency to develop the disease because of a genetic defect. One of these is a gene that leads to a tendency to develop colon cancer known as hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer (HNPCC) or Lynch Syndrome.
Estrogen Exposure – Estrogen is an essential female hormone. The more estrogen your body is exposed to over your lifetime the greater your risk for endometrial cancer.
Women who can answer YES to any of the statements below may be at increased risk:
- I started having my monthly period before the age of 12.
- I went through menopause after the age of 55.
- I had my first child after the age of 30.
- I have never been pregnant.
- I have used hormone replacement therapy.
Personal Medical History – If you have previously been diagnosed with cancer of the ovary or breast your risk will be increased. In addition women diagnosed with diabetes, polycystic ovarian syndrome as well as those diagnosed with endometrial hyperplasia (an increased growth of the endometrium) are also at increased risk.
Obesity – Being overweight or obese increases your risk as fat tissue can change hormones into estrogen therefore increasing your risk. For this reason a high-fat diet should be avoided.
What decreases my risk?
Any factor that lowers your risk of developing a disease is known as a PROTECTIVE FACTOR. These factors do not guarantee that a disease will not develop. Different cancers have different protective factors. Most cases of endometrial cancer cannot be prevented but there are some things that may lower your risk. Protective factors for endometrial cancer prevention include:
Pregnancy – A woman who has been pregnant has a lower risk of developing endometrial cancer than a woman who has never been pregnant.
Breastfeeding – Women who breastfeed their children have a lower risk of developing endometrial cancer than women who do not breastfeed.
Oral Contraceptives – or the “pill” as it is known will decrease your risk for developing endometrial cancer especially if used for a number of years.
Diet – Eat a low-fat diet, high in fruits and vegetables.
Exercise – Studies show that women who exercise on a daily basis lower their risk.
Signs and Symptoms
Early endometrial cancer often has no signs or symptoms. However you may experience:
Unusual bleeding, spotting or discharge – this is especially of concern if you no longer have a period.
Pain during sexual intercourse
Screening tests are done on persons who have no signs or symptoms of a disease. There is no reliable, routine screening recommended for endometrial cancer. However your doctor may recommend that you have one of the following tests:
Pelvic Exam – in which a medical practitioner inserts a gloved hand into your vagina and places the other hand on your abdomen. S/he is able to feel for any abnormalities in the size or shape of your uterus and ovaries.
Transvaginal Ultrasound – is one in which an ultrasound probe is placed in your vagina to create an image of your ovaries.