Frequently Asked Questions About Uterine Cancer

Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about uterine cancer.

Q: What are the types of uterine cancer?

A: There are two main kinds of uterine cancer. They are named based on where they occur in the uterus.

Endometrial carcinoma. This is the most common form of uterine cancer. Cancer that grows in tissues that form linings throughout the body is called carcinoma. Endometrial carcinoma is cancer that forms in the lining of the uterus, called the endometrium. The endometrium is the tissue in the uterus that thickens every month so that it will be ready to receive a fertilized egg. If the egg is not fertilized, it passes through the uterus and the endometrium sheds through the vagina. This is menstruation.

Uterine sarcoma. This is a much less common form of uterine cancer. Cancer may also occur in the other tissues of the uterus, such as in the muscle, called the myometrium. The myometrium works mainly during labor to help push the baby through the cervix and vagina. Other areas in which cancer can form are in the connective tissues or in the outer layer. Cancer in any of these tissues of the uterus is called sarcoma.

Q: What are the symptoms of uterine cancer?

A: These are the most common symptoms of uterine cancer.

  • Unusual bleeding or discharge from the vagina

  • Any bleeding from the vagina after menopause

  • Pain when urinating or when having a bowel movement

  • Pain during sexual intercourse

  • Pain in the pelvic area or lower abdomen

These symptoms may be due either to uterine cancer or to several other health problems. So if you notice any of them, talk with your doctor right away.

Q: What are the risk factors for uterine cancer?

A: Certain factors can make you more likely to get uterine cancer. These are called risk factors. But just because you have one or more risk factors does not mean you will definitely get uterine cancer. In fact, you can have all the risk factors and still not develop the disease. Or you can have no risk factors and still get uterine cancer. Here are the main risk factors for uterine cancer. Many of these risk factors are for endometrial carcinoma. These risks involve having too much exposure to the hormone estrogen.

  • Tamoxifen. Tamoxifen is a drug used to treat women who have breast cancer. Women who take tamoxifen may have a higher risk of getting uterine cancer.

  • Estrogen replacement therapy. Women who use estrogen replacement therapy without also using progesterone replacement have a higher chance of getting uterine cancer.

  • Endometrial hyperplasia. Women who have endometrial hyperplasia have a higher risk of getting uterine cancer. Endometrial hyperplasia means that there are more cells than there should be in the lining of the uterus. This is called a precancerous condition because it might turn into cancer. Women with endometrial hyperplasia may have unusual bleeding.

  • Obesity. Women who are obese (50 or more pounds overweight) get uterine cancer more often than women who are not obese. Health conditions linked to obesity, such as diabetes, also increase your risk.

  • Early menstruation. Women who had their first period before they were 12 have a higher risk for uterine cancer.

  • Late menopause. Women who reach menopause after age 50 have a higher risk for uterine cancer.

  • Older age. Most women who get uterine cancer are older than age 50.

  • Family history of uterine cancer. Women with family members who have had uterine cancer are more likely to get it.

  • Race. African-American women have a higher chance of getting uterine cancer than white or Asian women.

  • No pregnancies. Women who have never been pregnant have a higher chance of uterine cancer.

  • Previous radiation therapy to the pelvis. If you have had pelvic radiation in the past, your risk for developing uterine sarcomas is increased. These cancers usually are diagnosed five to 25 years after the radiation treatment.

  • Other cancers. Women who have had colon, rectal, or breast cancer have a higher chance of getting uterine cancer.

Q: What are the side effects of treatment?

A: Surgery causes temporary pain in the area of the operation, but it can be controlled with medicine. You're likely to be uncomfortable during the first few days after surgery. Be sure to discuss pain relief with the doctor or nurse. You may also feel tired or weak for a while after the surgery. You may have bleeding, cramps, or watery vaginal discharge for up to six weeks after surgery. You may have pain in her lower abdomen and trouble emptying your bladder. You may also have trouble with bowel movements. All these problems are usually temporary. Your sexuality is also affected by surgery, especially a hysterectomy. If you are of childbearing age, you may grieve because you can no longer have children. You may also have symptoms similar to going through menopause. Often, it helps to discuss these issues before surgery with your partner and your doctors.

Radiation affects both cancer cells and normal cells. Side effects of radiation depend on what part of the body is treated. Common side effects of radiation therapy are fatigue, skin changes, loss of appetite, and nausea. Sometimes, you might find that your vagina is narrower and less flexible. Sexual intercourse may be difficult because the skin in the treated area can be sensitive during treatment. You may also have diarrhea and frequent urination. Some of these effects will subside after treatment, while others may be permanent.

Hormone therapy may cause side effects as well. You may feel tired. You may also be more or less hungry than usual. Discuss any side effects with your doctor or nurse.

Chemotherapy affects both cancer cells and normal cells. The side effects you may notice depend on what kind and amount of drug you take. Common side effects of chemotherapy are nausea and vomiting, hair loss, mouth sores, diarrhea, and fatigue. Other serious side effects that may occur are infection or bleeding. Report any fever or bleeding during treatment immediately to your doctor or nurse.


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