Uterine cancer

Apr 15, 2012 , Vladislava Králová

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Uterine cancer is among the most common gynecological cancerous diseases. At first, it is isolated, later on it spreads to the entire body through blood and lymph. The symptoms of uterine cancer can be varied, bleeding outside of a menstrual cycle or after menopause is a common one, however. Among the risk factors of uterine cancer are obesity, childlessness or diabetes. Considering the incidence of uterine cancer in general population and the possible consequences, we shouldn't underestimate preventive gynecological examinations, which can reveal the tumor at an early stage.

Uterine cancer

Uterine cancer is the third most common cancerous disease afflicting women, after breast cancer and colon cancer. Women after menopause are especially affected. The danger of uterine cancer lies in the fact that it grows without symptoms for a long time and has a tendency to spread to the entire body. This is why its extremely important go undergo regular gynecological exams, to discover uterine cancer on time, if it is present and to begin the necessary treatment.

Uterus

The uterus is a female reproductive organ located in the pelvis. In front of it lies the urinary bladder and behind it is the rectum and part of the colon. It is fixed in place by a wide uterine ligament, which leads to the abdominal wall. We discern two basic parts of the uterus, the body and the cervix. In its upper part the body extends into two corners to which the fallopian tubes connect. The cervix is a narrow lower part of the uterus, to which the vagina leads to. The walls of the uterus have three layers, the mucous layer, the muscular layer and the fibrous cover. The mucous layer is influenced by female sex hormones and prepares every months for accepting a fertilized egg by growing in volume. If an egg is not fertilized, however, the enlarged mucous layer is washed away with menstrual blood. Uterine musculature is the thickest part of the uterus and has the ability of enlarging its volume several times during pregnancy. A fibrous layer covers the outside of the uterus. The main purpose of the uterus is preparing for the fertilized egg, its nutrition and further development.

How cancer develops

The human body is made up out of cell, which grow, divide and create new cells based on the organism's needs. If the cells are old or damaged, they die and are replaced by newly created one. This process can fail sometimes however. New cells are created without being needed, the old or damaged ones do not die as needed. Cells build up, forming a tumor. Cancerous cells can the travel into other parts of the body through blood or lymph and form new tumors, known as metastases. Uterine cancer can be malignant or benign. Benign uterine cancer doesn't generally endanger the woman's life, is easily curable and has no tendency of attacking nearby organs or spreading through the body. Malignant tumor on the other way can endanger the woman's life, tends to spread into other organs and can return after being cured.

Uterine cancer risk factors

Uterine cancer represents a 40 % of all gynecological cancers and are among the more common cancerous diseases. We recognize a range of risk factors. Among the main ones are age, hormonal influence, obesity, onset of menstruation before 12th year of life, late onset of menopause and heredity. Most women develop this cancer after menopause, around their 60th year. Longer exposure and greater doses of estrogen also increase the risk of uterine cancer. Estrogen form in fat deposits, among other places, which is why obesity is a risk factor. The onset of menstruation at an early age and its lasting into late years also ties to longer exposure to estrogen. It is stated that if a women reaches menopause after her 55th year, the risk of uterine cancer increases. Presence of uterine or intestinal cancer in family also increases the risk. Further risk factors are childlessness, smoking and diabetes.

Symptoms of uterine cancer

Uterine cancer grows within its boundaries at first, but eventually it spreads through the muscular layer further into the pelvis or protrudes as a polyp into the uterine cavity. As a result of its long limited growth, it is symptomless for a long time as well. The main symptom of uterine cancer is bleeding into the uterus and a resulting bloody vaginal discharge. Since uterine cancer is mostly present in higher ages, this bleeding tends to happen after menopause. The bleeding can be of varying strengths, from small stains to significant bloodloss. This symptom usually brings the afflicted woman to her gynecologist, allowing him to discover the cancer on time. Other uterine cancer symptoms, which however tend to signify an advanced stage of the disease are pain in the pelvic area, pain during sex, painful and difficult urination, loss of weight and loss of appetite.

Uterine cancer diagnostics

The diagnostic of uterine cancer is based on anamnesis and a gynecological, ultrasound and lab examination. Anamnesis is the information about previous diseases, family afflictions and current issues. The presence of bleeding is an important factor. During the gynecological examination the doctor examines the uterus, the vagina and nearby tissues for any changes in their shape or size. Another examination, supplementing the gynecological exam is an ultrasound. Using ultrasound the doctor will check the uterus and other organs in the pelvis. If he notes any changes on the uterine mucous layer, he will perform a biopsy. During this he will insert a special tool into the uterus, using it to scrape off a sample of the mucosa, then send this sample for a lab evaluation. There the sample is examined microscopically. Only through biopsy is it possible to reliably confirm not only the presence of uterine cancer, but also its stage and through this, a likely prognosis.

Treatment of uterine cancer

The treatment of uterine cancer mainly involves a surgical solution, as well as hormonal therapy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. The basis of treatment is a surgical procedure. Its type is decided by the surgeon, based on the patient's age, state and stage of the disease. The uterus with fallopian tubes is always removed. If the cancer is in late stage and spread through the body, the treatment must be combined with chemotherapy or aggressive anti-cancer drugs. Sometimes it is also complemented with radiotherapy. Further possible treatment is hormonal therapy. Large doses of progesteron are administered during this one, to decrease the amount of cancerous cells. After the treatment the woman needs to be examined every three months for any signs of remission.

Uterine cancer prevention

When talking about uterine cancer prevention it is important to stress the necessity of regular gynecological exams, which need to be performed at least once a year. Every bleeding happening outside of the cycle or after menopause should be looked into. Do not underestimate any symptom or suspicion and visit your doctor as soon as possible. A timely discovery and treatment of uterine cancer increases the chances of a full recovery.

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