What is endometrial cancer?
The lining of the uterus is called the endometrium. Cancer of the endometrium, the most common cancer of the female reproductive organs, is a disease in which malignant (cancerous) cells are found in the endometrium. Endometrioid cancer is a specific type of endometrial cancer.
Cancer of the endometrium is different from cancer of the muscle of the uterus, which is called sarcoma of the uterus. About 80 percent of all endometrial cancers are adenocarcinomas. Endometrial cancer is highly curable when found early. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), about 42,160 cases of cancer of the uterine body will be diagnosed in the US during 2009.
How is endometrial cancer diagnosed?
Diagnosis includes a medical history and physical exam, including a pelvic exam to feel the vagina, rectum, and lower abdomen for masses or growths. A Pap test may be requested as part of the pelvic exam. Several additional tests may be used to diagnose endometrial cancer, including:
- internal pelvic examination – to feel for any lumps or changes in the shape of the uterus
- Pap test (Also called Pap smear.) – a test that involves microscopic examination of cells collected from the cervix, used to detect changes that may be cancer or may lead to cancer, and to show noncancerous conditions, such as infection or inflammation. However, because cancer of the endometrium begins inside the uterus, problems may not be detected using a Pap test. Therefore, in some cases, an endometrial biopsy will be performed.
- endometrial biopsy – a procedure in which an endometrial tissue sample is obtained by using a small flexible tube that is inserted into the uterus. The tissue sample is examined under a microscope to determine if cancer or other abnormal cells are present. An endometrial biopsy procedure is often performed in a physician’s office.
- dilation and curettage (Also called D & C.) – a minor operation in which the cervix is dilated (expanded) so that the cervical canal and uterine lining can be scraped with a curette (spoon-shaped instrument). The pathologist examines the tissue for cancer cells.
- transvaginal ultrasound (Also called ultrasonography.) – an ultrasound test using a small instrument, called a transducer, that is placed in the vagina. The physician may perform a biopsy if the endometrium looks too thick.
Treatment for endometrial cancer:
Specific treatment for endometrial cancer will be determined by your physician(s) based on:
- your overall health and medical history
- extent of the disease
- your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
- expectations for the course of the disease
- your opinion or preference