pelvisawareness_adminPelvic Health

What Is Uterine Cancer?

There’s one word that sparks the negative emotions of fear and anger in everyone: cancer.

We’ve all been touched in some way by this disease, and there are certain forms that impact women specifically. Breast cancer seems far too common, but what is uterine cancer? 

Here’s what you need to know. 

About Your Uterus

Your uterus is a hollow organ which is where the fetus grows and develops when you’re pregnant. It’s about the size and shape of a pear and actually has two parts:

  • the body or corpus, which is the upper part of the uterus
  • the cervix which is the lower end of the uterus that connects it to the vagina

The uterus corpus or body has two layers of tissue:

  • The outer layer or myometrium, which is a thick layer of muscle that helps push the baby out during birth.
  • The inner layer or endometrium. This plays a key role in pregnancy and menstrual cycles, as it supports the embryo in pregnancy, and sheds during your period if you are not pregnant.

There’s also a layer of tissue called the serosa which coats the outside of the uterus.1

What Is Uterine Cancer?

Uterine cancer is when you suffer from one type of cancer in your uterus:

  1. It’s most typically endometrial cancer, which is when it impacts the endometrium or inner lining of your uterus. 
  2. It’s very rarely uterine sarcoma, which is when it develops in the myometrium or muscle wall of your uterus.

When people refer to uterine cancer, it can mean either one of these two forms. But endometrial cancer is one of the most common gynecologic cancers in the United States, and it makes up about 95% of all cases of uterine cancer. A diagnosis of uterine sarcoma is rare, and cervical cancer is a different type of cancer that impacts your cervix. 

Endometrial cancer mainly develops after menopause, and about 3% of women in the U.S. will receive a diagnosis of uterine cancer at some point during their lives. That means that each year, about 65,000 people receive a diagnosis.2

How Do I Know I Have Uterine Cancer?

The tricky part of uterine cancer is that its symptoms often resemble those of other conditions particularly those affecting your reproductive organs. For instance, any type of unusual pain or irregular vaginal bleeding is a sign to see a healthcare provider immediately. It’s important to get an accurate diagnosis so you can receive treatment for your condition.

Symptoms of uterine cancer include vaginal bleeding between periods, vaginal bleeding or spotting after menopause, extremely prolonged, heavy or frequent vaginal bleeding if you’re over 40, lower abdominal pain or cramping in your pelvis, and/or a thin white or clear vaginal discharge after menopause.2

If you have another pelvic condition, you may worry that it will become uterine cancer. Different studies have shown that isn’t necessarily the case:

  • One study showed no association between endometrial cancer and endometriosis or pelvic inflammatory disease.3
  • Another study suggested that uterine fibroids or endometriosis may be not associated with the increased risk of developing endometrial cancer, but a history of adenomyosis may be a risk factor.4
  • There was a possible increased risk for endometrial cancer among those with pelvic inflammatory disease in one study, particularly among old patients or those with hypertension.5

This does not mean you should be alarmed or worried about cancer if you have a pelvic condition. For instance, uterine fibroids are rarely cancerous—fewer than one in 1,000 fibroids turn out to be cancerous. Uterine fibroids themselves are not cancerous, but a cancerous growth can hide within a fibroid. 

That’s why it’s so important to seek medical attention if you suspect anything wrong with your pelvic health. Any strange symptoms like bleeding between periods or after menopause need to be checked immediately.6

There are risk factors too, many of which relate to the balance between estrogen and progesterone, like being obese, having a condition called polycystic ovarian syndrome, or taking estrogen without progesterone. Age, lifestyle, family history, other conditions like ovarian diseases, or different menstrual history factors like early menstruation and late menopause can all be risk factors too.2

See A Doctor 

If you suspect any type of pelvic disorder, seek immediate medical attention. Use our Physician Finder to find a doctor near you with expertise in women’s health who can help with proper diagnosis and treatment. You can also seek guidance on other women’s pelvic health issues, like pelvic floor muscles exercises. Consider using a tool like the INNOVO Urinary Incontinence Kit, which helps you perform 180 perfect Kegels in 30 minutes. Subscribe to the INNOVO newsletter to receive a $20 discount code for your purchase.