What is Endometrial cancer?
Endometrial cancer is cancer that arises from the lining of the uterus (called the endometrium). It is the most common type of cancer of the uterus, and the most common gynaecological cancer diagnosed in Australian women.
There is separate information about the other main type of cancer of the uterus, called uterine sarcoma. If you have been told you have ‘cancer of the uterus’, ‘cancer of the womb’ or ‘uterine cancer’, and you are not sure if it is endometrial cancer or uterine sarcoma, check with your doctor. Read More
About the uterus
The uterus, or womb, is the main female reproductive organ. It is about the size and shape of a hollow, upside-down pear, and sits low in the abdomen between the bladder and rectum. It is joined to the vagina by the cervix, which is the neck of the uterus.
The bulk of the uterus is smooth muscle tissue, which is called the myometrium. The lining of the uterus is called the endometrium.
When women ovulate (produce eggs in their ovaries), an egg travels through the fallopian tube into the uterus. If the egg is fertilised by a sperm, it will implant itself into the endometrium and grow into a baby.
If the egg is not fertilised, the top layers of the endometrium are shed and flow out of the body through the vagina during menstruation. This is known as a woman’s period.
Menopause occurs when a woman no longer releases the hormones that cause ovulation and menstruation. A menopausal woman’s monthly periods stop, and she can no longer become pregnant. The uterus becomes smaller and the endometrium becomes thinner and inactive.
Benign conditions of the uterus (not cancer)
Several conditions can affect the uterus that are not cancerous.
Fibroids are common benign tumours that grow in the muscle of the uterus. They occur mainly in women in their 40s, and only rarely become cancer.
Usually, fibroids cause no symptoms and need no treatment. But depending on their size and location, they can cause bleeding, vaginal discharge and frequent urination. Women with these symptoms should see their doctor.
If fibroids cause heavy bleeding, or if they press against nearby organs and cause pain, the doctor can refer you to a gynaecologist, who may suggest surgery or other treatment.
As you reach menopause, fibroids are likely to become smaller, and sometimes disappear.
Endometriosis is most common in women in their 30s and 40s, especially in women who have never been pregnant. It occurs when endometrial tissue begins to grow on the outside of the uterus and on nearby organs.
Symptoms may include painful menstrual periods, abnormal vaginal bleeding, and sometimes loss of fertility (ability to get pregnant).
Uterine adenomyosis is a benign condition that causes heavy, painful periods in women. This happens because cells that normally line the inside of the uterus start to grow in the walls of the uterus. It may often occur along with endometriosis.
Endometrial hyperplasia is an increase in the number of cells in the lining of the uterus. It is most common in women older than 40.
Endometrial hyperplasia is not cancer, but it can sometimes develop into cancer.
Symptoms may include heavy menstrual periods, bleeding between periods and bleeding after menopause.
To prevent endometrial hyperplasia from developing into cancer, the doctor may recommend surgery to remove the uterus (hysterectomy) or treatment with hormones (progesterone) and regular follow-up curettage. Hide