Endometrial cancer: understanding the signs and symptoms
Learn more about how you can detect endometrial cancer
August 29, 2023
As we age, it’s important to recognize changes in the body. Irregular periods, postmenopausal bleeding, abnormal vaginal discharge, changes to bladder or bowel habits – these shifts can seem like a part of getting older. But for some, these changes can signal a more serious issue, as many mirror the symptoms of gynecologic cancers.
What is endometrial cancer?
In 2020, endometrial cancer was the second most commonly diagnosed gynecologic cancer worldwide. It occurs when cancerous cells form in the tissues of the endometrium or inner lining of the uterus.
How can I learn if I’m at risk for endometrial cancer?
While age, family history and lifestyle choices impact the risk of endometrial cancer, conditions that affect the body’s estrogen levels can also play a role. For example:
- Hormone replacement therapy for menopause often includes an increase of estrogen to manage menopausal symptoms.
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) usually creates higher estrogen levels and lower progesterone levels.
- Estrogen modulators (tamoxifen) may cause the uterine lining to grow.
- Certain comorbidities, including obesity and type 2 diabetes, have been linked as risk factors for endometrial cancer. For example, in people with obesity, fat tissue can convert certain hormones into estrogen, which increase the levels in the body.
Studies show Black women are more likely to be diagnosed with endometrial cancer than white women.
What to watch out for:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding
- Pelvic pain
- Irregular menstrual cycles
- Pain during intercourse
- Postmenopausal bleeding
- Abnormal vaginal discharge
- Changes to bowel or bladder habits
How is endometrial cancer diagnosed?
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor about getting screened. Tests to diagnose it may include:
- Endometrial biopsy: A thin, flexible tube is inserted into the uterus to collect a tissue sample from the endometrium
- Dilation and curettage: The cervix is dilated to collect tissue from the inner lining of the uterus.
- Hysteroscopy: An instrument with a light and lens for viewing is inserted into the uterus to look for abnormal areas.
- Transvaginal ultrasound: A probe is inserted into the vagina to produce images that are used to assess the pelvic organs, including the uterus.
Being diagnosed with endometrial cancer can be scary. But by speaking with your doctor, you can better understand your options and build the best path forward.