Endometrial cancer is a cancer that arises from the endometrium (the lining of the uterus or womb). It is the result of the abnormal growth of cells that have the ability to invade or spread to other parts of the body. The first sign is most often vaginal bleeding not associated with a menstrual period. Other symptoms include pain with urination, pain during sexual intercourse, or pelvic pain. Endometrial cancer occurs most commonly after menopause. Approximately 40% of cases are related to obesity. Endometrial cancer is also associated with excessive estrogen exposure, high blood pressure and diabetes.
The leading treatment option for endometrial cancer is abdominal hysterectomy (the total removal by surgery of the uterus), together with removal of the fallopian tubes and ovaries on both sides, called a bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy. In more advanced cases, radiation therapy, chemotherapy or hormone therapy may also be recommended. If the disease is diagnosed at an early stage, the outcome is favorable, and the overall five-year survival rate in the United States is greater than 80%.
Vaginal bleeding or spotting in women after menopause occurs in 90% of endometrial cancer. Bleeding is especially common with adenocarcinoma, occurring in two-thirds of all cases. Abnormal menstrual cycles or extremely long, heavy, or frequent episodes of bleeding in women before menopause may also be a sign of endometrial cancer. Symptoms other than bleeding are not common. Other symptoms include thin white or clear vaginal discharge in postmenopausal women. More advanced disease shows more obvious symptoms or signs that can be detected on a physical examination. The uterus may become enlarged or the cancer may spread, causing lower abdominal pain or pelvic cramping.
Risk factors for endometrial cancer include obesity, diabetes mellitus, breast cancer, use of tamoxifen, never having had a child, late menopause, high levels of estrogen, and increasing age. Immigration studies (migration studies), which examine the change in cancer risk in populations moving between countries with different rates of cancer, show that there is some environmental component to endometrial cancer. These environmental risk factors are not well characterized.
Most of the risk factors for endometrial cancer involve high levels of estrogens. An estimated 40% of cases are thought to be related to obesity. In obesity, the excess of adipose tissue increases conversion of androstenedione into estrone, an estrogen. Higher levels of estrone in the blood causes less or no ovulation and exposes the endometrium to continuously high levels of estrogens. Obesity also causes less estrogen to be removed from the blood. Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which also causes irregular or no ovulation, is associated with higher rates of endometrial cancer for the same reasons as obesity.
Genetic disorders can also cause endometrial cancer. Overall, hereditary causes contribute to 2–10% of endometrial cancer cases. Lynch syndrome, an autosomal dominant genetic disorder that mainly causes colorectal cancer, also causes endometrial cancer, especially before menopause. Women with Lynch syndrome have a 40–60% risk of developing endometrial cancer, higher than their risk of developing colorectal (bowel) or ovarian cancer. Ovarian and endometrial cancer develop simultaneously in 20% of people. Endometrial cancer nearly always develops before colon cancer, on average, 11 years before.
Journal of Clinical Oncology and Cancer Research,