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What is Uterine Cancer & What Are the Symptoms

What is uterine cancer?

Uterine cancer occurs when cells in any part of the uterus become abnormal, grow out of control and form a lump called a tumour. Cancer of the uterus can be either endometrial cancer or the less common uterine sarcoma. A sarcoma is a cancer of the bone, cartilage, fat, muscle, blood vessels, or other connective or supportive tissue.

Types of uterine cancer

There are three types of uterine sarcoma: 

  • Leiomyosarcoma: this type of cancer begins in the smooth muscle cells that form the walls of the uterus
  • Endometrial stromal sarcoma: this type of cancer begins in the connective tissue cells of the stroma, which supports the lining of the uterus (the endometrium)
  • Carcinosarcoma: this is also called a malignant mixed Mullerian tumour. A carcinosarcoma is a mixture of carcinoma (cancer of epithelial tissue, which is skin and tissue that lines or covers the internal organs, such as the endometrium) and sarcoma (cancer of connective tissue, such as bone, cartilage and fat)

What are the first signs of uterine cancer?

The most common early sign of uterine cancer is unusual vaginal bleeding. This may include:

  • Irregular vaginal bleeding, spotting, or discharge
  • For premenopausal people, this includes menorrhagia, which is abnormally heavy or prolonged bleeding, and/or abnormal uterine bleeding

Symptoms of uterine cancer

The symptoms of uterine cancer include:

  • bleeding between periods
  • bleeding after menopause
  • a mass or lump in the vagina
  • pain or a feeling of fullness in the abdomen (belly)
  • frequent urination

Many conditions can cause these symptoms, not just uterine sarcoma. However, all women with unusual bleeding or discharge should see their doctor. All women with postmenopausal vaginal bleeding should be referred to a gynaecologist.

Cervical Screening Tests do not detect cancer of the uterus. If you have recently had a Cervical Screening Test with a normal result, this does not mean that you do not have cancer of the uterus. You should still have any symptoms checked by a doctor.

The Cervical Screening Test, however, is a simple process to look for signs of the human papillomavirus (HPV) – a common infection that causes most cervical cancers. Most cases of HPV clear up on their own, however, sometimes it can develop into cancer. Doing the Cervical Screening Test every 5 years means your healthcare provider can monitor or investigate HPV further if needed.

Uterine conditions: What are uterine polyps and their symptoms?

Uterine polyps are small, soft growths attached to the inner wall of the uterus. Polyps are usually benign; however, some may eventually turn into cancer.

Uterine polyps commonly occur post menopause. The main symptoms of polyps are very similar to uterine cancer symptoms, including irregular menstrual bleeding such as having frequent, unpredictable periods of variable length and heaviness, as well as bleeding between menstrual periods.

Uterine cancer research at the ACRF

ACRF awarded a $2.5 million grant to the Centenary Institute in 2016 to help establish the ACRF Tumour Metabolism Laboratory. Research at the ACRF Tumour Metabolism Laboratory focuses on the role of nutrient metabolism particularly in endometrial, brain and triple-negative breast tumours. These cancers are among the most difficult to treat of all cancers. 

By donating to ACRF, you are helping to provide scientists with the tools, technology and infrastructure they need to accelerate cancer research. Click here to see donation options or make a donation today

References:

Uterine Cancer | Cancer Australia