Sometimes called endometrial cancer, uterine cancer is the most common form of cancer in the female reproductive system. It grows in the tissue that lines the inner portion of the uterus. More than 90% of the cases are adenocarcinomas (cells that release mucus or other fluids) that start in the endometrium, or inner lining of the uterus. The remaining cases are called uterine sarcomas—cancer of the muscle and supporting tissues of the uterus.
The grade, or severity, of uterine cancer is determined by how the glands formed by cancerous cells compare to healthy endometrial tissue. Lower grade (1, 2) cases are typically less aggressive than higher grades (3).
A majority of cases can be found among women age 50 or older and uterine cancer is most prevalent among white women.
Risk factors for uterine cancer include:
- Estrogen therapy -- A typical form of treatment for menopause symptoms but, if estrogen is used without progesterone, uterine cancer has been known to develop.
- Total number of menstrual cycles -- The more menstrual cycles a woman has during her lifetime increases the chance of developing uterine cancer. As a result, the earlier in life a woman starts menstruating and the longer a woman goes before menopause, the chances of developing uterine cancer increase.
- Lack of pregnancy -- Women who have not been pregnant or those who are infertile have a higher risk of developing the cancer.
- Tamoxifen -- A drug used to treat breast cancer. Though rare, it is a risk factor for uterine cancer because of the drug acting like an estrogen in the uterus.
- Obesity – Uterine cancer is three times more common among obese women than those at a healthier weight.
- Ovarian tumors -- Certain types of tumors can release estrogen, causing a hormone imbalance that sometimes leads to uterine cancer.
- Polycystic ovarian syndromes (PCOS) -- Women with PCOS have abnormal hormone levels, which can increase the chance of development.
- Age -- The chance of developing this form of cancer increases with age.
- Diet/exercise -- A high-fat diet can increase the chance of several cancers, especially because such can lead to weight gain, which is a risk factor in itself.
- Diabetes -- Women with diabetes are four times more likely to develop uterine cancer.
- Prior pelvic radiation therapy – Radiation used to treat another form of cancer can damage the DNA of cells, sometimes increasing the risk of a second type of cancer such as uterine cancer.
- Endometrial hyperplasia --Endometrial hyperplasia is an increased growth of the endometrium. Mild or simple hyperplasia, which is the most common type, has a very small risk of becoming cancerous.
- Family history -- If several family members have/had uterine cancer, your healthcare professional may recommend undergoing genetic testing.
Typical symptoms include:
- Abnormal bleeding, spotting or discharge
- Pelvic pain/feeling of mass
- Weight loss
The primary form of treatment for uterine cancer is surgery. In most cases, a hysterectomy (removal of the uterus and cervix) is performed. Depending on the individual case and the stage of cancer, radiation and/or chemotherapy may be recommended.
Find out more about our gynecologic cancer treatment program and gynecologic cancer screening