Our bodies do a lot for us — carrying us through each day when we’re at work and at play. But we don’t always listen to the signals. When you notice something in your body isn’t quite right, it can be worth getting checked out without delay.
Watch for early warning signs
Most commonly found in women after menopause, endometrial cancer affects the inner layer of the uterus (endometrium), causing growing cancer cells to thicken the lining of the uterus or form a tumor.
Usually, endometrial cancer causes symptoms early on that lead women to check with their doctor. And fortunately, taking early action often means catching it at a highly treatable stage.
Here are the symptoms women most commonly notice.
Unusual vaginal bleeding. About 90 percent of women with endometrial cancer have abnormal vaginal bleeding. If you haven’t gone through menopause yet, you might notice a change in your period or bleeding between periods. After menopause, if you have any vaginal bleeding, you should be checked out by a doctor.
Other pelvic symptoms. Some women with endometrial cancer experience pelvic pain, pain during sexual intercourse and trouble urinating. It can also cause unusual vaginal discharge after menopause.
Know if you’re at risk for endometrial cancer
About three percent of women receive a diagnosis of endometrial cancer in their lives, most commonly around the age of 60. You might have a higher chance of developing it if you:
- Are obese
- Have a close family history of endometrial cancer, which can be passed to you from your mother OR father
- Have never been pregnant
- Started your period early (before the age of 12) or started menopause late
- Take estrogen without progesterone for menopausal hormone therapy
- Take tamoxifen for breast cancer
If you’re worried about your risk for developing cancer, talk to your doctor about what you can do to help protect yourself. Generally, being physically active and eating a healthy diet can help reduce your overall risk.
Act quickly if you have symptoms
If you notice one of the symptoms listed above, schedule an appointment with your gynecologist. They’ll likely talk to you about your health history and do a physical exam. And if needed, may also recommend an ultrasound of the area to look for tumors or see if your endometrium is thicker than normal.
These two common tests can help the doctor check the cells in your endometrium:
- Endometrial biopsy. The doctor will insert a thin, flexible tube into your uterus through your cervix to remove a small amount of tissue. They’ll examine the cells with a microscope to check for cancer.
- The doctor will use a tool with a light and lens to look for and biopsy any abnormal areas.
Your care team might also order additional tests if needed.
Sometimes unusual bleeding or other symptoms are flags for different conditions that are less serious than cancer. But it’s important you still get checked to understand what’s causing the change in your body. If it is endometrial cancer, doctors will likely recommend surgery and other therapies, such as radiation and chemotherapy, to treat it.
Be your body’s best advocate
Right now, there’s no standard screening test to check for endometrial cancer. The best way to catch it early is to listen to your body — and take note of any signs or signals. If you’ve noticed a change in your body recently or have questions, we’re here to support you.
Luminis Health was recently joined by Michael L. Hicks, MD, a board certified gynecologic oncologist. Dr. Hicks has a wealth of experience in gynecologic oncology.