According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), there are five main types of cancer that affect women’s reproductive organs. These are cervical, ovarian, uterine, vaginal, and vulvar cancers, with uterine cancer affecting 50,600 women in the United States each year.
It is important to know the signs and symptoms of uterine cancer because it is not recommended that women get yearly screenings. Uterine cancer causes abnormal bleeding and vaginal discharge and can also lead to pelvic pressure and pain. When symptoms present, doctors can conduct different screening tests for uterine cancer, including endometrial biopsy, hysteroscopy, and dilation and curettage (D&C).
The most common form of this cancer is endometrial cancer, named because it forms along the lining of the uterus — the endometrium. Uterine cancer is most commonly found in post-menopausal women, when the endometrium is supposed to be 8 and 11 millimeters thick. When the endometrium shows up on an MRI or ultrasound, it looks like a dark stripe and is sometimes called the endometrial stripe. A stripe more than 11 millimeters is considered thick for this post-menopausal stage. Abnormally thick stripes could be a sign of cancer.
Endometrial cancer is rated on a grading scale of 1 to 3 based on how much it looks like a normal endometrium. Grades 1 and 2 are considered lower grade, less aggressive cancers in which cancerous tissue forms glands; these are labeled Type 1 cancers. Grade 3 is a higher grade, aggressive cancer under the type 2 label. The cancerous tissue is haphazard and does not form glands. Type 2 cancerous endometriums look extremely different from healthy and normal endometriums. They are labeled as poorly differentiated.
There are different treatment options for uterine cancers, however, they are dependent on the stage, type, and the aggressiveness of the cancer. Surgery in the form of a hysterectomy and/or salpingo-oophorectomy (removal of the fallopian tubes and ovaries) is the first option. Secondly, radiation therapy can be used before surgery to help shrink tumors or prevent the growth of future tumors.
One of the most common treatments associated with cancer is chemotherapy. This involves using intense chemicals to kill cancerous cells in the body and is either distributed orally or through the veins. It may be recommended for women with advanced or recurrent endometrial cancer that has metastasized. Lastly, hormonal therapy may be used to treat uterine cancer. This treatment manipulates levels of hormones like estrogen and progesterone to prevent or slow tumor growth.
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