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Uterine cancer

About uterine cancer

Uterine cancer begins in the uterus, the hollow, pear-shaped organ in a woman’s pelvis where a baby grows during pregnancy. Uterine cancer may form in various areas of the uterus, but the majority develop in the endometrium—the inner lining of the uterus—and are called endometrial cancer.

Endometrial cancer is the most common type of gynecologic cancer in the United States, and accounts for 6 percent of all cancers in women, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Most endometrial cancer are diagnosed at an early stage and treated with surgery alone. 

What causes uterine cancer?

The exact causes of uterine cancer aren't known, but a number of factors increase the risk of developing the disease. Because an increase in estrogen increases a woman's risk of uterine cancer, factors that raise a woman's estrogen level may raise her risk, as well. Some of these factors include:

  • Obesity
  • Ovarian tumors
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome
  • Estrogen therapy
  • Starting menstruation early or menopause late
  • Taking tamoxifen to prevent and treat breast cancer

Similarly, a decrease in estrogen decreases a woman's risk of uterine cancer, and factors that lower a woman's estrogen level may lower her risk. Some of these factors include:

  • Birth control use
  • Pregnancy

In addition to a woman's hormone levels, other risk factors may increase a woman's chance of developing uterine cancer. These include:

  • Diabetes
  • A family history of uterine cancer
  • Atypical endometrial hyperplasia
  • Pelvic radiation therapy

Learn more about risk factors for uterine cancer

Who gets uterine cancer?

Most women diagnosed with uterine cancer are over age 50 and have gone through menopause. The cancer accounts for 3.6 percent of all new cancer cases in the United States, according to the NCI. The American Cancer Society estimates that around 61,880 new cases of the cancer will be diagnosed in the United States in 2019.

Uterine cancer types

Endometrial cancer is the most common form of uterine cancer. More than 80 percent of such cases are endometrial adenocarcinomas. Endometrial cancer is the most commonly diagnosed gynecologic cancer. Endometroid carcinoma is the most common type of endometrial adenocarcinoma. Other subtypes include:

  • Serous adenocarcinoma
  • Adenosquamous carcinoma
  • Uterine carcinosarcoma

Learn more about uterine cancer types

Uterine cancer symptoms

The most common sign of uterine cancer is unusual vaginal bleeding. In fact, according to the American Cancer Society, around 90 percent of women with endometrial cancer have abnormal vaginal bleeding. Other symptoms of uterine cancer may include:

  • Difficult or painful urination
  • Pain during intercourse
  • Pain in the abdomen

Learn more about uterine cancer symptoms

Diagnosing uterine cancer

Tests used in the diagnosis of uterine cancer may include:

Learn more about diagnosing uterine cancer

Treating uterine cancer

Surgery is often the first-line treatment for women with cancer that develops in the uterus, but combinations of treatments may be recommended depending on the cancer's stage and type, as well as on the patient's individual needs and treatment goals.

Other treatment options may include:

Learn more about treatments for uterine cancer

Next topic: What are the risk factors for uterine cancer?