Get Your Questions About Endometrial Carcinoma Answered
Endometrial Carcinoma, also known as uterine cancer, is the cancer of the uterine lining or the endometrium. The uterus is a long, hollow organ in a woman's pelvis and is approximately three inches long in women who are not pregnant. Approximately 38,000 women annually are diagnosed. The National Cancer Institute estimates that endometrial carcinoma accounts for approximately 6% of all types of cancers in American women. Endometrial carcinoma grows slowly, but if left untreated, it can spread to the bladder, vagina, fallopian tubes, or ovaries. It is the third most deadly reproductive cancer behind ovarian cancer and cervical cancer. Women diagnosed with endometrial cancer are typically between the ages of 45 and 74 years old. Endometrial carcinoma is treatable; however, as with other cancers, early detection is important.
The 5 Important Questions
1. What are the symptoms of endometrial carcinoma?
A: About five percent of patients experience no symptoms; however, the most common symptom is abnormal vaginal bleeding which can manifest in different ways depending upon the woman's age. For example, a premenopausal woman could notice changes in the length or heaviness of bleeding of menstrual periods or spotting between menstrual periods. A postmenopausal woman could experience bleeding as well or a watery or bloody vaginal discharge. Pain in the lower abdomen or pain during sex are other symptoms women may experience.
2. What causes endometrial carcinoma?
A: Endometrial carcinoma is believed to be genetic; however, lifestyle choices can impact a woman's susceptibility. A healthy diet (with limited animal fats) and exercise can help. Maintaining a healthy weight is also important. Age increases a woman's chance of being diagnosed; rarely are women below the age of 40 afflicted with endometrial carcinoma. Women taking medication to treat breast cancer and women undergoing hormone replacement therapy are at a higher risk of contracting endometrial carcinoma. Also, women with type 2 diabetes are considered at higher risk for this disease.
3. What are the stages of endometrial carcinoma?
A: The four stages are defined by where the cancer is contained and are as follows:
- Stage 1 - The cancer is only in the uterus.
- Stage 2 - The cancer is in the uterus and cervix.
- Stage 3 - The cancer has spread outside the uterus but not as far as the rectum or bladder. It could be in the fallopian tubes, vagina, ovaries and in nearby lymph nodes.
- Stage 4 - The cancer has spread beyond the pelvic area and could be in the rectum, bladder, or other distant tissues and organs.
4. What are the treatments for endometrial carcinoma?
A: Treatment options depend on the stage and severity of the cancer. A hysterectomy which is the surgical removal of the uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes may be performed. Radiation, or high energy beams, can be used to remove the cancer cells. External radiation using a machine is one method. Placing radioactive materials in the body (in the vagina or uterus) is also possible; this procedure is called brachytherapy. Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to eliminate cancer cells. Chemotherapy can consist of one drug or a combination of drugs, and it can be administered intravenously or orally (with pills). This is a potential treatment option if the endometrial cancer has spread to other parts of the body, or cancer has returned after remission. Hormone therapy involves the use of drugs to change the body's hormone levels which can help to slow the growth of endometrial cancer cells.
5. What is the prognosis for endometrial carcinoma patients?
A: Diagnosed early, endometrial carcinoma has a better prognosis compared to most cervical and ovarian cancers. Radiation after an operation yields a 90% probability of recovery provided that the cancer has not spread throughout the abdomen. Often, radiation is not necessary. Early detection plus immediate treatment cures 98% of patients without radiation. Annual checkups and regular communication with doctors when noticing changes that occur within the woman's body are key to long term health and well-being with endometrial carcinoma as well as other female reproductive cancers.
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