The womb, also known as the uterus, is a pear-shaped organ in the female reproductive system that holds the foetus during pregnancy. Womb cancer is the fourth most common cancer amongst women in the United Kingdom.
What is womb cancer?
Womb cancer occurs when a lump or tumour forms in your womb, because cells have begun to change and grow in an abnormal way.
There are two main types of womb cancer:
- Endometrial cancer – begins in the womb lining (also known as the endometrium) and is the most common form of womb cancer. This might also be referred to as uterine cancer
- Uterine sarcoma – develops in the muscle wall of the womb, and is less common
It’s possible that womb cancer can spread to other parts of your body or surrounding tissue.
What are the symptoms of womb cancer?
Abnormal vaginal bleeding (especially postmenopausal) is the most common symptom of womb cancer.
If you have gone through the menopause, any vaginal bleeding that occurs should be considered unusual.
In women who have not yet gone through the menopause, symptoms of womb cancer could be periods that are irregular or heavier than usual or bleeding outside of your normal period.
Other symptoms of womb cancer include:
- Abdominal pain
- Unusual vaginal discharge
- Pain during sexual intercourse
What causes womb cancer?
It isn’t known what causes womb cancer, but it is thought that it can be linked to:
- Age – only 1% of women diagnosed with womb cancer are under the age of 40
- High oestrogen levels
- Family history
- Being overweight or obese
- High blood pressure
- Beginning your period earlier in your life
- Reproductive history – women who have been pregnant have less chance of getting womb cancer than those who have never been
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
- Endometrial hyperplasia – a thickened womb lining
- Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
- Pelvic radiotherapy
- Lynch syndrome – a familial genetic syndrome that increases your risk of certain cancers
- Taking tamoxifen – a breast cancer drug
How is womb cancer diagnosed?
If you have been experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, you should see your consultant.
Your consultant will inquire about your symptoms and may do an internal examination of your vagina. In order to confirm whether you have womb cancer, and its stage, you may also undergo:
- A transvaginal ultrasound scan – this creates an image of the interior of your womb, which your consultant can review
- An endometrial biopsy – a plastic tube is inserted vaginally into your womb, and cells are removed from the womb lining
- A hysteroscopy – a small telescope (hysteroscope) is inserted into your vagina and cervix in order to see the inside of your uterus
How is womb cancer treated?
The way womb cancer is treated is dependent upon the stage of cancer and your general health.
A hysterectomy (surgical removal of the womb) is the most common treatment for womb cancer and this could be done via laparoscopic (keyhole) and open surgery. Often, the fallopian tubes and ovaries will be removed as well. This is called a bilateral salpingo oophorectomy.
Having a hysterectomy is often an effective cure for early-stage womb cancer, but this will mean that it will be impossible to become pregnant after the procedure.
Your consultant might also recommend that you undergo chemotherapy, radiotherapy or hormone therapy in addition to a hysterectomy, depending on the final histology (biopsy report).
If you’re unsure what treatment you should go for, or the above treatments don’t work for you, our team of expert specialists are here to help.