If you're a woman—especially if you're older than 45—it pays to know a few key facts about endometrial cancer, the most common cancer of the female reproductive organs.
If this year is typical, over 55,000 women in the U.S—most of them postmenopausal and in their 60s—will learn they have endometrial cancer. Here are five top things to know about the disease.
1. It develops in the lining of the uterus—the endometrium. This cancer occurs when cells in the endometrium start growing too rapidly. As a result, the endometrium can thicken in certain places and eventually form a tumor.
2. Age isn't the only thing that raises your risk. Extra pounds also add to your chances of getting the disease. For example, if you're overweight or obese, you're 5-10 times more likely to develop endometrial cancer than women at a healthy weight.
You're also more prone to endometrial cancer if you:
• Still have a uterus and use estrogen-only hormone therapy to treat menopause symptoms.
• Use the medicine tamoxifen to treat or prevent breast cancer.
• Have polycystic ovary syndrome.
3. Most women have early signs or symptoms. The most common sign—by far—is abnormal vaginal bleeding. About 90 percent of women with endometrial cancer experience it.
If you're premenopausal, this bleeding includes periods that are heavier or longer than usual, bleeding between periods, or any irregular spotting. If you're past menopause, any bleeding is abnormal.
Be sure to tell your doctor right away about any abnormal bleeding, especially if you're postmenopausal. Sometimes a pink vaginal discharge after menopause may also be a symptom. So watch for this too.
4. Most women with endometrial cancer will have a good outcome. Treatment — typically surgery — is very effective, especially when the disease is found early. In fact, most early stage cancers do not require any additional chemotherapy or radiation. That's why it's crucial go get any abnormal bleeding checked out.
5. You can lower your risk. Do your best to get to, and stay at, a healthy weight. And move more. Research suggests that the more active you are, the lower your chance of getting this cancer. Finally, if you still have a uterus and are considering hormone therapy after menopause, discuss the pros and cons with your doctor. And if you opt to use hormone therapy, be sure that it includes progesterone if you have a uterus.
For more information or to schedule an appointment with Watson Clinic’s Gynecologic Oncology department, call 863-680-7578 or click here.
Sources: American Academy of Family Physicians; American Cancer Society; American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists; American Society of Clinical Oncology; National Institutes of Health