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Uterine Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment in NJ, CT, MD, and the Washington, D.C., Area

Uterine cancer is among the most common types of cancer in the United States, with more than 65,000 cases diagnosed each year. Fortunately, uterine cancer is treatable, especially when doctors detect and treat it early.

Serving patients throughout New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, and the Washington, D.C., area, Regional Cancer Care Associates (RCCA) offers cutting-edge cancer treatment options. The board-certified medical oncologists at RCCA have significant experience treating uterine cancer, including endometrial cancer and uterine sarcoma. Learn more about the risk factors and symptoms of uterine cancer as well as treatment options and risk reduction.

What Is Uterine Cancer?

Uterine cancer is a type of cancer that develops in the tissues of the uterus or its lining, known as the endometrium. The two main types of uterine cancer are uterine sarcoma and endometrial cancer. 

Anatomy and Function of the Uterus

The uterus is a female reproductive organ located in the pelvis between the bladder and the rectum. In pregnancy, eggs that are released by the ovaries and then fertilized by sperm (which typically occurs in the fallopian tubes), move into the uterus. Each month during a woman’s reproductive years (after puberty and before menopause), the lining of the uterus thickens to prepare for pregnancy. If an egg is not fertilized and pregnancy does not occur, the uterus sheds its lining – the endometrium – causing a menstrual period. 

Types of Uterine Cancer

The two main types of uterine cancer are: 

Endometrial Cancer

Endometrial cancer is the most common uterine cancer, accounting for more than 90% of cases. Endometrial cancer originates in the tissues of the endometrium. The first sign of this type of cancer is often irregular bleeding. It is not clear what causes endometrial cancer to develop, but certain hormonal changes and hormone therapies can increase risk.

Uterine Sarcoma

Uterine sarcoma is rare and accounts for less than 4% of all uterine cancers in the United States. This type of uterine cancer typically develops in the muscle wall of the uterus, known as the myometrium. Uterine sarcoma usually grows and spreads more quickly than other cancers of the uterus.

Uterine Cancer Causes and Risk Factors

Certain factors increase a person’s risk of uterine cancer. These include:

  • Age: Women and people assigned female at birth (AFAB) over 50 years of age have higher rates of uterine cancer than younger women.
  • Weight: Women who are overweight or obese may be more at increased risk.
  • Hormone levels: Patients with an imbalance of estrogen may be more at risk, as are patients who have received estrogen therapy in the past.
  • Family history: If a patient has family members who have had uterine cancer, she is more likely to develop this form of cancer.
  • History of radiation exposure: Women who have had radiation therapy in the pelvic area have a higher risk of uterine cancer.
  • Reproductive history: Patients who began menstruating early, started menopause late, or have never been pregnant have an increased risk of developing uterine cancer.

A personal history of cancer can also raise a patient’s risk. Women who have had breast cancer, colon cancer, or ovarian cancer may have an inherited risk for uterine cancer.

Diagnosis sheet shows the words “uterine cancer”

Signs and Symptoms of Uterine Cancer

Symptoms of uterine cancer include:

● Abnormal bleeding or spotting, including vaginal bleeding between periods or after menopause

  • Unusual vaginal discharge
  • Extended and heavy vaginal bleeding after age 40
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain, discomfort, or pressure
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Pain during sexual intercourse

Patients experiencing abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge should see their doctor right away.

Diagnosing Uterine Cancer

In addition to a pelvic exam, several tests are used to confirm a diagnosis of uterine cancer:

  • Transvaginal ultrasound: This imaging test uses an ultrasound probe that is inserted into the vaginal opening. The ultrasound generates images of the inside of the uterus using sound waves.
  • Endometrial biopsy: This is a minimally invasive procedure that takes a small tissue sample from the endometrium. The tissue is then examined under a microscope to check for cancer cells.
  • Hysteroscopy: This procedure uses a hysteroscope, a thin, flexible tube with a camera that allows a provider to visualize the uterine lining.

If cancer cells are detected, a patient may need additional imaging tests such as a computed tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to assess how far the cancer has progressed, a process known as staging. 

Uterine Cancer Stages and Prognosis

Once uterine cancer is detected, physicians determine its stage. Stages range from I to IV, with IV being the most advanced. Staging is determined by assessing the primary tumor, checking whether cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, and determining if the cancer has metastasized, meaning it has spread to other parts of the body. The stages of uterine cancer are:

  • Stage I: In this stage, cancer has not spread beyond the uterus.
  • Stage II: This stage indicates that cancer cells are present in the cervix or other organs or tissues close to the uterus.
  • Stage III: In this stage, cancer cells have spread into the vagina, ovaries, or lymph nodes.
  • Stage IV: This advanced stage indicates that cancer has traveled throughout the body and spread to other organs.

Staging helps determine the best treatment approach. When cancer is detected early, it is easier to treat. In the U.S., the overall five-year survival rate for uterine cancer is 81%. For endometrial cancer that has not spread outside the uterus, the five-year survival rate is as high as 96%.

Doctor explaining scan to patient

Treatment Options for Uterine Cancer

Typically, surgery is the primary treatment for uterine cancer. One option is a total hysterectomy, which is the surgical removal of the uterus and cervix. This may be performed as a minimally invasive procedure or as traditional (open) surgery. In some cases, the ovaries and fallopian tubes will be removed, as well.

During a hysterectomy, surgeons may also perform a lymph node dissection, known as a lymphadenectomy. They will check one of the lymph nodes closest to the uterus to see if cancer cells are present. This is known as a sentinel node biopsy. If the biopsy reveals malignant cells, it is an indication that the cancer may have spread to other lymph nodes. If the lymph node is cancer-free, it is unlikely that lymph nodes in other parts of the body have cancer.

Another option is hormone therapy, which is often used in conjunction with surgery or other forms of treatment. Hormone therapy drugs work by suppressing the hormones that help cancer grow or by interfering with hormonal function. Other methods for treating uterine cancer include:

These may be used as adjuvant treatments, meaning they are administered after surgery to reduce the likelihood that cancer remains or comes back.

Coping with Uterine Cancer

As with any form of cancer, patients may struggle to cope with a uterine cancer diagnosis. Treatment can take a physical and emotional toll, so patients need to understand the psychological impact of a cancer diagnosis and seek emotional support when needed. Healthcare providers can offer referrals to support groups and counseling resources, as well as recommend lifestyle changes or complementary therapies that may be helpful. 

Prevention and Risk Reduction

While it may not be possible to prevent uterine cancer, there are steps patients can take to reduce their risk. These include:

  • Getting regular gynecological exams and annual checkups
  • Maintaining a healthy weight and staying physically active

Birth control pills may also help decrease the risk of uterine cancer by regulating hormone levels.

Addressing Fertility Concerns

Treatment for uterine cancer typically involves a hysterectomy. However, patients who have early-stage, slow-growing adenocarcinoma and want to have a child may be treated initially with hormonal therapy instead. After giving birth, removal of the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries may be recommended. Because treatments like chemotherapy and radiation can also affect the reproductive system, all patients who have been diagnosed with any type of cancer should talk with their provider about options for preserving their fertility. 

Provider showing anatomical model of uterus to seated patient during exam

Frequently Asked Questions About Uterine Cancer

Some frequently asked questions regarding uterine cancer are:

Can Uterine Cancer Be Prevented?

There is no definitive way to prevent uterine cancer, but patients can lower their risk through several steps, including maintaining a healthy weight.

Are There Any Early Warning Signs of Uterine Cancer?

Unusual vaginal bleeding or an abnormal Pap smear are often the earliest signs of uterine cancer.

How Is Uterine Cancer Diagnosed and Staged?

Uterine cancer may be diagnosed using a biopsy or other tests.

What Are the Treatment Options for Uterine Cancer?

Surgery, in the form of a partial or total hysterectomy, is often the best treatment option for uterine cancer. Other treatment options include hormone therapy, radiation, and chemotherapy. These may be administered following hysterectomy.

Is Uterine Cancer Hereditary?

Some hereditary conditions, such as Lynch syndrome and Cowden syndrome, can increase a patient’s chance of developing uterine cancer.

Can Uterine Cancer Affect Fertility?

Yes. After a hysterectomy, a patient will no longer be able to become pregnant. Patients may be able to freeze their eggs before surgery but will need a surrogate or gestational carrier in the future.

Seek Expert Uterine Cancer Care at RCCA

The best defense against uterine cancer is early detection and intervention. Patients are encouraged to talk with their healthcare providers whenever they notice unusual bleeding or related symptoms. For patients who have been diagnosed with uterine cancer, comprehensive care is available from the doctors at RCCA. The knowledgeable medical oncologists serve patients in New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, and the Washington, D.C., area at over 20 locations. The experienced medical team provides treatment for all cancer types, as well as blood disorders. For more information about cancer care at RCCA, contact us today.

Regional Cancer Care Associates — Cancer care near your home

For expert uterine cancer diagnosis and treatment close to home, consider Regional Cancer Care Associates (RCCA). We are one of the largest cancer care networks in the country. We’re located in several states—yet we focus on every patient, individually. At RCCA, you’ll receive advanced, dedicated and compassionate cancer care. We work with you and your family to deliver care that’s second to none.

Schedule an appointment with RCCA by calling the RCCA location nearest you. You can also get in touch by calling (844) 346-7222.

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