What is womb cancer?
Womb cancer, also known as endometrial or uterine cancer, is a form of cancer that affects the womb. The womb is part of the female reproductive system and is responsible for holding and protecting an unborn baby during pregnancy. The medical name for the womb is the uterus. There are various types of womb cancer, with the most prevalent type being endometrial cancer. Around 7,000 women are diagnosed with womb cancer every year in the UK.
What causes womb cancer?
The cause of womb cancer is not strictly known, though certain risk factors are believed to play a part. These include:
- Age: womb cancer is more common in older people and most cases affect women aged above 50
- Having children: if you have had children you have an increased risk of developing womb cancer
- Being overweight
- Family history
- HRT (hormone replacement therapy): if you have HRT for more than five years the risk of developing womb cancer is increased (this is only very slight)
- Menstrual history: if you started your periods early or are late going through the menopause, your risk of developing womb cancer increases
Symptoms of womb cancer
The most common symptom associated with womb cancer is abnormal vaginal bleeding (this includes bleeding from the vagina between periods, abnormal discharge, having heavier periods than normal and bleeding after the menopause). Other symptoms of womb cancer may include:
- Abdominal pain
- Lower back pain
- Loss of appetite and associated weight loss
- Tiredness and generally feeling unwell
Many of these symptoms are related with other health issues, but it is always worth getting checked out.
How is womb cancer diagnosed?
You should see your GP if you have symptoms or you feel unwell. Your GP will ask you about any issues you are having and examine you. If they think you may have womb cancer they will get you in contact with a specialist for tests. They may also take a blood sample and ask you to provide a urine sample. Tests you can expect to be undertaken at the hospital include a trans-vaginal ultrasound, biopsy and a hysteroscopy (this allows doctors to look inside the womb). The test results will be used to confirm a diagnosis.
How is womb cancer treated?
Surgery is the main treatment for womb cancer and if the cancer is diagnosed at an early age no further treatment may be required. Radiotherapy may be used if the cancer is more advanced, or if you are not well enough to have surgery or if you do not want to have surgery. Hormone therapy may be used to slow the speed of the cancer spreading and chemotherapy may also be used to control symptoms and stop the cancer from spreading or returning after successful treatment.
What is the outlook for womb cancer?
The outlook for womb cancer is good; between 70 and 80 percent of women who are diagnosed with womb cancer will survive for at least 10 years after diagnosis. The outlook depends on how far developed the cancer is and how it reacts to treatment. Generally speaking the earlier the diagnosis is made the better the prognosis.
Living with womb cancer
Living with womb cancer is very hard and presents both physical and emotional challenges and there may be days when you may feel like you cannot cope. Your care team will take care of all your medical needs but they can also offer advice and support. However, if you want more information or you want to talk to somebody with experience of cancer, there are UK cancer charities that serve this purpose.