Endometrial cancer, also called uterine cancer, refers to the formation of any malignancy develops in the endometrial tissue of the uterus, a hollow pear-shaped muscular organ of the female reproductive system located in the lower abdomen, between the bladder and the rectum, and in charge for the development of the embryo and fetus during pregnancy.
The tumor should not be confused with cervical cancer which affects mainly young women and has different epidemiological characteristics and causes: mainly genital infection by a sexually transmitted virus called Human Papilloma virus (HPV). Endometrial cancer, however, affects mostly menopausal women and differs in therapeutic procedures. The disease is rare in women under the age of 45, occurring mostly after menopause.
To better understand endometrial cancer, it is important to comprehend the organ from which it forms. The endometrium is a thin mucosa that lines the inside of the uterus. Under the effect of hormones, it thickens during the first half of the menstrual cycle. If there has been no fertilization of the egg, part of the endometrium is then removed during menstruation. The process continues like this every month, until menopause.
The cancer develops when cells in initially normal endometrium tissue is transformed and then multiplies uncontrollably to form a cluster of abnormal cells called malignant tumor. Most often, endometrial cancers arise from a cell of the first layer of the endometrium, epithelium. They are then called carcinomas; endometrial carcinomas are the most common forms of endometrial cancer. Without a proper treatment to stop the progression, the malignant cells can leave their initial site to spread to the muscle of the uterus and surrounding organs. For more information, please see endometrial cancer treatment.
In term of incidence, the condition is the most common gynecologic cancer and the fourth, in women, after breast, lung and colon cancers. It is estimated that up to 3% of women in the United States will develop uterine cancer at some point during their lives.
Fortunately, it is a cancer of good prognosis. The tumor is often diagnosed in its early developmental stage when it has caused no serious damages to the endometrium. Undergoing an effective endometrial cancer treatment at earliest possible is the key to successfully fight the disease. When a uterine cancer is treated in its early stage, the 5 years survival rate after the treatment is 95%.
One of the reasons endometrial cancer has a good prognosis is the fact that it is often discovered during an early assessment of abnormal uterine bleeding in a postmenopausal woman. A woman in her menopause must see a medical doctor from the first appearance of endometrial cancer symptoms such as vaginal bleeding. Menopausal women must also see a health specialist in case of vaginal bleeding outside their periods. For more information on warning signs and symptoms, please see endometrial cancer symptoms.
Treatment of endometrial cancer depends on its stage at diagnosis. However, very often the tumor is accessible to curative surgery. When diagnosed at a more advanced stage, endometrial cancer treatment tends to include surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and/or hormone therapy. These last two therapies are most often applied when a cure is almost impossible.
National Cancer Institute. Long-term data support cisplatin-based chemoradiation for cervical cancer. Available at http://www.cancer.gov/clinicaltrials/results/cisplatin-cervical0507 (accessed March 20, 2009)
The Cleveland Clinic Foundation. Carcinoma of the endometrium availavle at http://www.clevelandclinicmeded.com/medicalpubs/diseasemanagement/womens-health/gynecologic-malignancies/Default.htm (retrieved May 21, 2015