A guide to endometrial cancer

Endometrial cancer begins in the the lining of the uterus, a woman's hollow pelvic organ that fosters fetal development. Genetic mutation causes abnormal, cancerous cell growth, developing into a tumor. According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 47,130 new cases of endometrial cancer will be diagnosed and 8,010 women will die from it in 2012.

When cells in the lining of the uterus replicate themselves, genetic mutations can occur that result in aberrant cells. These cancerous cells multiply and congeal into a tumor. Then they invade nearby tissues, often spreading throughout the body, or metastasizing. Scientists don't know exactly what causes endometrial cancer, but several factors increase your risk of developing it.

Endometrial cancer is often detected early because abnormal vaginal bleeding is its most telling signs. This can include extensive periods, bleeding between periods or blood-tinged vaginal discharge. Other, more subtle symptoms include pelvic pain and pain from intercourse.

Gynecologist David L. Zisow of Northwest Hospital said that vaginal bleeding that occurs after menopause is the most telling warning sign: "To be safe, a postmenopausal woman who has not had a menstrual period for at least six months, who then has bleeding of any amount, must consult with her gynecologist to be properly evaluated and to have endometrial cancer ruled out."

The National Cancer Institute explains that a pap test does not detect endometrial cancer because the cancer is in the uterus. Endometrial tissue must be removed and examined for diagnosis. This can be achieved with a biopsy or dilatation and curettage. For an endometrial biopsy, a thin tube is inserted through the cervix to the uterus. This tube scrapes off samples of endometrial tissue.

According to the National Cancer Institute, endometrial cancer is highly curable.

"The treating physician," Zisow said, "should be a gynecologic oncologist who has expertise in minimally invasive, robotic surgery." The basic types of treatment fall into three categories: surgery, radiation therapy and hormone therapy.

Surgery is the primary treatment for removing endometrial cancer.

Doctor Peter Frederick, a gynecologic oncologist, encourages patients with endometrial cancer to ask if they are candidates for minimally invasive surgery: "Endometrial cancer is often caught at an early stage, and cures may be achieved with surgery alone."

A total hysterectomy is a surgery in which the doctor removes the entire uterus (cervix included). When removed through a large incision in the abdomen, this is called a total abdominal hysterectomy. When the abdominal incision is small and a laparoscope is used, this is called a total laparoscopic hysterectomy. When removed through the vagina, this is called a vaginal hysterectomy. The other common surgeries are bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy (removal of the fallopian tubes and ovaries) and radical hysterectomy (removal of the uterus, cervix and a portion of the vagina).

After surgery, radiation or hormone therapy are administered to eliminate any surviving cancer cells. With radiation therapy, powerful X-rays target the cancer cells and stop them from developing. Depending on the stage and kind of cancer, external or internal radiation is applied. Hormone therapy removes certain hormones that enable the cancer to thrive. Any therapy that diminishes these hormones or prevents them from attaching to receptors on cancer cells is hormone therapy.