Illustration shows endometrial cancer
Endometrial CancerOpen Pop-up Dialog
Endometrial cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the uterus. The uterus is the hollow, pear-shaped pelvic organ in which the development of the fetus takes place.
Endometrial cancer begins in the layer of cells that make up the lining of the uterus (endometrium). Endometrial cancer is sometimes referred to as uterine cancer. Other types of cancer can develop in the uterus, including uterine sarcoma, but they are much less common than endometrial cancer.
Endometrial cancer is often detected early because it often causes abnormal vaginal bleeding. If endometrial cancer is detected early, surgical removal of the uterus often cures endometrial cancer.
Signs and symptoms of endometrial cancer can include:
Postmenopausal vaginal bleeding
Bleeding between periods
Doctors don’t know what causes endometrial cancer. What we do know is that something is happening to make changes (mutations) in the DNA of endometrial cells – the lining of the uterus.
The mutation turns normal, healthy cells into abnormal cells. Healthy cells grow and multiply at a set rate and eventually die. The abnormal cells grow and multiply in an uncontrolled manner and eventually stop dying. The abnormal cells that accumulate form a lump (tumor). Cancer cells invade nearby tissues and can separate from an initial tumor and spread (metastasize) elsewhere in the body.
No more years of menstruation. Starting menstruation early – before age 12 – or starting menopause later increases the risk of endometrial cancer. The more periods you have, the more exposed your endometrium is to estrogen.
I’ve never been pregnant before. If you’ve never been pregnant, you’re at a higher risk of endometrial cancer than someone who has had at least one pregnancy.
An older age. The risk of endometrial cancer increases with age. Endometrial cancer is most common after menopause.
Obesity. Being overweight increases your risk of endometrial cancer. This can happen because excess body fat affects your body’s hormonal balance.
Hormone therapy for breast cancer. Taking tamoxifen, a hormonal medicine used for breast cancer, may increase your risk of developing endometrial cancer. If you are taking tamoxifen, discuss this risk with your doctor. For the most part, the benefits of tamoxifen outweigh the low risk of endometrial cancer.
To reduce your risk of endometrial cancer, you may want to:
Talk to your doctor about the risks of hormone therapy after menopause. If you’re considering hormone replacement therapy to manage menopause symptoms, talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits. If you haven’t had a hysterectomy, simply replacing estrogen after menopause can increase your risk of endometrial cancer. Taking a combination of estrogen and progestin can reduce this risk. Hormone therapy carries other risks. Therefore, weigh the benefits and risks with your doctor.
Consider taking birth control pills. Using oral contraceptives for at least a year can reduce the risk of endometrial cancer. It is believed that the risk reduction will persist for several years after discontinuing oral contraceptives. However, birth control pills have side effects. Therefore, discuss the benefits and risks with your doctor.