What is Uterine Cancer?
Uterine cancer is one of the most common cancers of the female reproductive organs. Women who just pass menopause, most often between the ages of 50 and 70 years, are more likely to suffer from uterine or endometrial cancer. Abnormal vaginal bleeding is the most common symptom of this condition.
Although there are many risk factors associated with the development of cancer of the uterus, the female hormone estrogen is thought to play a particularly significant role. Endometrial cancer may run in some families. Early clinical symptoms, resulting in early diagnosis of uterine cancer, may offer a better chance of survival with prompt treatment.
- Uterine cancer is almost synonymous with endometrial cancer (cancer of the inner lining of the uterus) or endometrial carcinoma since almost all cancers of the uterus start in the endometrium.
- Cancer may also start in the supporting connective tissue (stroma) and muscle cells of the uterus and is then known as uterine sarcoma. This is relatively less common than endometrial carcinoma.
- Cervical cancer (cancer of the cervix) is a different entity from endometrial cancer.
Cancer in the Uterus
The uterus,or womb, is that part of the female reproductive system where the baby grows when a woman is pregnant. The upper part of the uterus is the body while the lower end, which extends into the vagina, is known as the cervix.
The body of the uterus has an inner lining known as endometrium. The muscular wall is called the myometrium, which is covered on the outside by the serosa.
Changes occur in the endometrium as a result of hormonal changes at different phases of the menstrual cycle. At the beginning of the cycle, there is increased estrogen level caused by secretion of estrogen by the ovaries. This causes the endometrium to thicken in preparation for implantation of the embryo, should pregnancy occur. If pregnancy does not occur, the estrogen level drops and by the end of the cycle the endometrial lining is shed and comes out as menstruation.
Uterine Cancer and Female Hormones
However, in most cases of endometrial cancer, the thickening of the endometrium remains as such. This condition is known as endometrial hyperplasia, which may be a precancerous stage of endometrial cancer. Hormonal imbalance is thought to be an important factor in the development of endometrial cancer. Unopposed estrogenic stimulation leads to endometrial hyperplasia, which may be reversible in the initial stages with hormonal therapy. However, persistent stimulation can lead to atypical hyperplasia followed by endometrial cancer.
Uterine cancer is when cells in a part of the body start growing out of control. These are abnormal cells and this uncontrolled growth heralds the beginning of cancer. More and more abnormal cells are formed which may invade other tissues. Cancer cells may start growing in any part of the body. Damage to DNA in the cell provokes a normal cell to become cancerous, which further produces new cells with damaged DNA.
Benign and Malignant Tumors of the Uterus
Cancer cells may form a tumor at the site of abnormal cell growth. This is known as a malignant tumor. Cancer cells may also travel to other parts of the body through the blood stream or lymph vessels and form new tumors there. This is known as metastasis and the tumors are metastatic tumors. Different types of cancers may behave differently and also respond to different ways to treatment. Malignant tumors may grow back even after removal and may become life-threatening.
Sometimes, tumors which are not malignant form in the uterus. These are known as benign or non-cancerous tumors like uterine polyps or uterine fibroids. Benign tumors do not invade other tissues and do not metastasize. Uterine cancer indicates a malignant tumor of the uterus. Women who have never got pregnant are seen to be more at risk of getting endometrial cancer. This could be due to the continuous hormonal onslaught on the endometrium through the years. This is interrupted when a woman falls pregnant since pregnancy causes amenorrhea or cessation of menstruation.