What is uterus cancer?
The body is made up of billions of tiny cells, which are constantly growing, dying and reforming. If the cells become abnormal for any reason, this turnover cycle can lose control. The abnormal cells start dividing and growing faster than normal, forming a growth of abnormal cells (cancer). Cancers cause problems because they replace normal cells with abnormal non-functioning cells, destroying nearby areas as they grow.
A benign uterus growth is one that forms a lump, but is not dangerous. A pre-malignant uterus growth is one that has the potential to turn into a cancer, but has not done so yet. A malignant uterus growth is a cancer that has the potential to spread elsewhere.
What is the uterus?
The uterus (womb) is an orange-sized muscular organ that sits just above the vagina in the pelvis. The purpose of the uterus is to keep the foetus safe and nourished during pregnancy. At the top of the uterus, there are two fallopian tubes - these tubes carry eggs from the ovaries to the uterus, ready to be fertilised. The cervix is at the base of the uterus where it meets the vagina.
What symptoms might uterus cancer cause?
Cancer of the uterus is also termed 'endometrial' cancer.
The most common symptom caused by endometrial cancer is vaginal bleeding, which can occur even between periods or after the menopause. Continuous vaginal discharge may also be experienced, which can be foul-smelling.
Pain can occasionally be experienced, as well as weight loss, tiredness and heavy bleeding. These may occur due to more advanced cancer or as a result of the cancer spreading to other parts of the body, which is life-threatening.
What causes uterus (endometrial) cancer?
Age is the most important risk factor, with most cases occurring after the menopause. The hormone 'oestrogen' also seems to increase risks; the risk is therefore increased in those taking HRT (hormone replacement therapy), Tamoxifen for breast cancer treatment, or those with certain ovarian conditions.
What tests can be done for uterus cancer?
All vaginal bleeding that occurs after the menopause should be considered due to cancer unless proven otherwise. For this reason, a number of tests may be organised. These include blood tests, scans or x-rays, and hysteroscopy (a telescope test to see inside the uterus). A biopsy may also be taken at the time of hysteroscopy.
What treatment is there for uterus cancer?
Depending on the results of the tests and your symptoms, further surgery may be needed. If the specialist finds evidence of cancer then a hysterectomy is often required, and may be accompanied by radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
A successful outcome often depends on an early diagnosis, so if you have any concerns then medical advice should be sought as soon as possible.
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