Read Time: 3 minutes
Theresa L. Werner, MD
Medical Director, Clinical Trials Office, Huntsman Cancer Institute
Associate Professor, Division of Oncology, University of Utah Department of Medicine
Uterine cancer is the most common gynecologic cancer that we see here in the United States. People ask me, "How common is uterine cancer?" or "What is my chance of getting it?" And in U.S. women, it's a one to two percent chance that at some time you'll develop uterine cancer in your lifetime. So, actually relatively common in the U.S.
We don't have good screening for uterine cancer as we do for cervix cancer, for example.
The most common sign for uterine cancer that we see is postmenopausal bleeding.
So, as you know when you become postmenopausal you stop having your menstrual cycles. So when women who are postmenopausal, if you see any abnormal uterine bleeding or spotting, that's the time that you need to call the doctor, and go in and have an examination. So, this might include a pelvic exam or an ultrasound of the pelvis to get a look at the uterus, and the inside of the uterus, called the endometrium. We want to make sure that there's no sign that this could be cancer. Sometimes it could just be a polyp, or something benign, but because postmenopausal bleeding is abnormal, we do want every woman to get that checked out.
Also too, if you're pre-menopausal and you have a change in your menstrual cycle—so for example more heavy bleeding, persistent bleeding, that could also be a warning sign for uterine cancer. So if there's any changes in your regular cycle, that should prompt a call and a visit to your doctor.
The most common risk factor is too much estrogen or too much hormones in your body, so any woman who's taking exogenous or extra estrogen, that's a potential risk factor for uterine cancer. So, women who are postmenopausal will often get prescribed hormone replacement therapy because they're having symptoms of menopause—hot flashes, for example is a very common symptom. So for those women who are getting extra estrogen we should pay very close attention that if they have any abnormal signs or symptoms, like post-menopausal bleeding as we discussed, that should prompt a visit to their doctor.
Another risk factor for uterine cancer is if a family member has, what we call, Lynch Syndrome. Lynch Syndrome is a genetic syndrome, so it's something that's usually inherited, where someone's body has problems repairing DNA. There are certain proteins in the body called mismatch repair proteins and they help repair the mistakes that our body makes in duplicating the DNA on a regular basis. And so we want to know about families who potentially have this syndrome because they have an increased risk for not only uterine cancer, but colon cancer, and even ovarian cancer, for example. Two to five percent of uterine cancers are caused by Lynch Syndrome, so it is an important thing to consider when someone presents with uterine cancer or they have a family history of cancers.
At the Huntsman Cancer Institute we give the most comprehensive care for cancer patients, especially the gynecologic cancer patients. We have a multi-disciplinary team, so not only does it include a medical oncologist, like myself, but also a gynecologist oncologist, who is surgery trained, as well as sometimes, in gynecologic cancer—specifically uterine cancer and cervix cancer, we utilize radiation and so we have radiation oncologists as part of our team.
We have the most caring group of nurses and nurse practitioners, and physicians assistants, as well as genetic counselors and social workers here at Huntsman. Our patients get the whole team supporting them through every aspect of their patient care, which is really important when you're battling cancer.