Cervical cancer (endometrial carcinoma) is the most common type of cancer that can affect female reproductive organs. An estimated 61,300 to 70,000 new cases are diagnosed each year. About 10,900 of these are fatal. This type of cancer already occurs in younger women. Every 14th woman is under the age of 30 when she is diagnosed. One third of the patients do not survive the next five years after surgery.
However, there are no standard screening tests to detect this disease, and some women may not be aware of the symptoms and warning signs. This makes it all the more important to look at possible signs so that you can see a doctor early. This doctor’s visit could save your life.
1. the most common symptoms of endometrial cancer
Endometrial carcinoma begin as malignant cells that form in the lining of the uterus. The most common warning signs are abnormal bleeding or discharge from the vagina. If you are already in the post-menopausal period, bleeding or spots are abnormal. So if you suddenly find that you need a panty liner, you should definitely inform your doctor.
In younger women, symptoms may include irregular or heavy periods that last longer than you are used to. Bleeding between periods and pain in the lower abdomen should also be taken seriously and monitored. The same applies to pain that occurs during sexual intercourse.
2. who is at risk for uterine cancer?
Most cervical carcinomas occur in women between 45 and 74 years of age, but in principle women of all ages can be at risk.
Fluctuations in hormone levels can cause changes in the endometrium or the lining of the uterus in a woman. The levels of estrogen and progesterone in a woman’s body can also affect her chances of getting cervical cancer. Some women who have a family history of cervical cancer may be at greater risk.
Overweight menopausal women who have not yet had a pregnancy and whose last period was after the age of 52 are particularly at risk.
Whether there is a risk from estrogen-like substances in food has not yet been clarified.
3. diagnostic tools can be helpful
If you are at high risk or suspected of having uterine cancer, doctors can use various diagnostic tools to determine if you have signs of the disease.
Dilatation and curettage (D & C) is a procedure in which tissue samples are taken from the uterus. It can be used with hysteroscopy (uterine endoscopy) to allow a doctor to look inside the uterus during the procedure. A transvaginal ultrasound, a CT scan, or an MRI are other instruments that allow doctors to obtain different types of images in the uterus and endometrium.
A separate scraping of the cervix and the endometrium can also be performed to confirm the diagnosis.
4. other important warning signs
Some women have constant discomfort in the pelvic area or quickly feel full during meals. Others have pain during sex or when they go to the toilet. Some experience an abnormal discharge that does not contain blood but may smell bad.
Other important symptoms include pressure on the bladder or bowel, which can lead to the urge to go to the toilet more often. Finding blood in urine or stool can also be a sign that something is wrong.
One in five cancers is asymptomatic and is only discovered by chance during surgery for other conditions. Doctors can only detect uterine cancer at an advanced stage.
5. signs that endometrial tumors are growing
When a uterine tumor gets bigger, it can cause a variety of problems, such as increasing pelvic, back or abdominal pain, bloating, nausea, vomiting or blood in the urine or stool. Symptoms that persist or worsen for more than a few weeks should be examined more closely. Late symptoms are often chronic lower abdominal pain and unexplained weight loss.
As the tumor grows, it can also penetrate the underlying muscle layer of the uterus and even extend to the cervix. The tissue sample taken is subjected to a fine tissue analysis in the laboratory.
If the diagnosis is confirmed, further imaging procedures may be considered.
6. Early detection
Because many women have symptoms that prompt them to see a doctor, uterine cancer is often detected early when it is still highly treatable. However, there are no simple screening tests to detect endometrial cancer in women without symptoms.
Pap tests refer to cervical cancer and not specifically to cervical cancer. Pelvic exams mainly look for cervical cancer. Unexplained weight loss or flesh-colored, often foul-smelling discharge outside the menstrual cycle can be a warning sign, but it does not necessarily mean that cancer is present.
Nevertheless, you should consult your gynecologist immediately in the event of any irregular bleeding to clarify the cause! Regular visits to the gynecologist are generally recommended.
7. Different stages of cancer of the uterus
In stage 1 the carcinoma is located in the uterus. In stage 2, the cancer has started to grow into the connective tissue of the cervix.
In stage 3, the cancer has spread outside the uterus into the ovaries or fallopian tubes and may be located in nearby tissues or in lymph nodes in the pelvic area. The vagina may also be affected.
In stage 4, the cancer has spread to the bladder, rectum or other areas of the abdomen and possibly to distant organs, bones or lymph nodes. In this case, doctors talk about distant metastases or daughter tumors in other parts of the body.
8. Risk factors for endometrial carcinoma
Factors that can increase the risk of uterine body cancer include obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes mellitus, but also the intake of certain drugs.
These include, for example, tamoxifen, which is prescribed for breast cancer or taking estrogen alone (without progesterone). Women who have never given birth or who have polycystic ovarian syndrome are also at greater risk. Other risks include early menstruation (menarche) or reaching menopause at an advanced age.
A family history provides information about a genetic risk. Here the patient is asked whether close relatives have already been diagnosed with endometrial or colon cancer.
9. Some women have an inherited risk
About 3-5 percent of endometrial carcinomas can be traced back to a hereditary disease known as Lynch syndrome. This condition is passed down through generations within a family and endangers family members with certain gene mutations for a number of different cancers, including endometrial and colorectal cancer.
There is an approximately 50 percent chance that a hereditary tumor will be passed on to children of both sexes. A genetic test, which can be performed from the age of 18, provides certainty. If the test is positive, you should not panic immediately, because it does not tell if and when the disease will break out. It is best to contact a cancer advice centre.
10. Determining the best form of treatment
Surgery is the most common treatment for endometrial carcinomas. Radiation therapy is sometimes used before surgery and occasionally in early stages instead of surgery to reduce the size of cancer tumors.
Surgery usually consists of the removal of the uterus and ovaries. However, the surgeon can also remove lymph nodes from the areas where the cancer is most likely to have spread outside the uterus. In some cases, hormone therapy may be an alternative to surgery, especially for women who have not yet had children.
However, the benefit of hormone treatment for this form of cancer – unlike other gynecological cancers – is not certain.
The chance of recovery depends on the stage the tumor is in. If the cancer is diagnosed in stage I, the chance is 85%, whereas in stage II it is only 70%.
In stage III, the chance of recovery is reduced to 50 %, while in stage IV it is 20 %. The diagnosis of cancer is of course a shock at first. But there is much you can do yourself to deal with this horror.
Make sure you eat a healthy diet and get enough exercise, but also allow your body to rest and relax. Relaxation methods such as yoga and autogenic training can be very supportive.