Patients with uterine cancer may complain of moderate-to-severe pain in their pelvic region. The pain usually radiates to their abdomen as well as chest as cancer grows. However, pain in the pelvic region may develop only in the later stages of uterine cancer. In more than 90 percent of women, unexpected abnormal vaginal bleeding is the most common early sign of ovarian cancer. However, the early signs and symptoms of uterine cancer may sometimes vary from patient to patient. The irregular bleeding might be
- Vaginal bleeding after the menopause
- Bleeding between periods
- Bleeding that is unusually heavy
- Vaginal discharge from blood-stained to a light or dark brown
Uterine cancer usually occurs after menopause, typically between the ages of 60 and 70. It also may occur around the time that menopause begins. Bleeding may start as a watery, blood-streaked flow that gradually contains more blood. A woman should see her doctor if she has any of the following symptoms along with abnormal bleeding.
- Thin white or clear vaginal discharge with foul smell after menopause
- Extremely long, heavy or frequent episodes of vaginal bleeding after age 40 years, unresponsive to medical management
- Difficult or painful urination
- Pain during intercourse
- Pain or pressure in the pelvic area—sometimes, a lump in the pelvic area or lower abdomen may also be felt
- Unintentional weight loss
- A feeling of fullness or pressure in the abdomen
- Changes in bowel or bladder habits
What are the different stages of uterine cancer?
Uterine cancer, which is also known as endometrial cancer, is characterized by the irregular growth of cells in the uterus. The uterus is the place where a baby grows when a woman is pregnant. Uterine cancer is the most common cancer of a woman’s reproductive system. Cancer begins when normal cells in the uterus begin to change, grow uncontrollably and form a mass of cells called a tumor. If this tumor is found to be cancerous or malignant, it is then considered uterine cancer. The stages of endometrial cancer may include
- Stage I (Stage I uterine cancer): Cancer is confined to the uterus.
- Stage II (Stage II uterine cancer): Cancer has spread to the cervix (neck of the uterus).
- Stage III (Stage III uterine cancer): Cancer has spread to the vagina, ovaries and/or lymph nodes.
- Stage IV (Stage IV uterine cancer): In the most advanced stage of uterine cancer, cancer has spread to the urinary bladder, rectum or organs located far from the uterus, such as the lungs or bones.
When considering treatment for uterine cancer, it will depend on the stage of cancer and overall general health. Treatment options for uterine cancer can include
- Surgery: Surgery is often recommended for aggressive cases of endometrial cancer or to prevent it from spreading further. A hysterectomy (surgical removal of the uterus) is usually suggested with salpingo-oophorectomy (surgical removal of the fallopian tube and ovary) as a precautionary step. At the same time, the lymph nodes will be removed for testing, which is essential to determine the stages of cancer.
- Radiation: If the cancer is not aggressive or is still in the initial stages, radiation therapy is often used to kill cancer cells. It can be used to shrink a tumor, making it easier to remove it. It can also be used to reduce the risk of cancer recurrence after surgery. Radiation therapy is also recommended for women who are not eligible for surgery.
- Hormone therapy: Hormone therapy is often suggested for advanced cases of endometrial cancer that has spread beyond the uterus. Hormone therapy targets certain hormones in the body that aid or prevents uterine cancer growth.
- Chemotherapy: A chemical drug designed to kill cancer cells; it can be consumed to treat cancer. It can be taken through intravenous drips or orally. It is often recommended for individuals who have recurrent endometrial cancer that has spread beyond the uterus.
Early detection and better treatment have improved survival for people with uterine cancer. If uterine cancer has been diagnosed in its later stages, cancer may have spread to the point where a cure is no longer possible. Treatment then focuses on improving the quality of life by relieving the symptoms (this is called palliative treatment). The patient may be given chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery to help with this. They may also have medication to relieve pain, nausea and vomiting.