If you, or someone you love, have been diagnosed with cancer, you may not know what to do. Here's a list of tips and ways to cope with a cancer diagnosis.
What is Cancer?
Cancer is not a single disease. It is the general name for a group of more than 100 diseases in which cells in a part of the body begin to proliferate, or grow, wildly and invade other cells, which is something that normal cells are unable to do.
Cancer results from a process of altered cell differentiation and growth. The resulting tissue is called a neoplasia.
A neoplasm is also called a tumor, although the two are not exactly the same.
A Tumor is a swelling that can be caused by a number of conditions, including trauma and inflammation. They are named by adding an -oma to the tissue type that the growth originated from.
What is Endometrial Cancer, or Uterine Cancer?
Endometrial Cancer, also called uterine cancer, is a cancer that begins in the lining of the uterus, called endometrium. This is the most common form of uterine cancer, and makes up roughly ninety-five percent of uterine cancers. It typically occurs between the ages of 60 and 70 years old when too much estrogen is still present.
There are other forms of uterine cancer, but they are more rare. These include: uterine sarcoma, gestational trophoblastic disease, and cervical cancer.
Read more about cervical cancer.
Causes of Endometrial Cancer:
At this time, it is unknown what causes endometrial cancer.
What is certain is that a genetic mutation within the endometrium cells occurs, which causes the cancerous cells to form and grow. This mutation turns healthy cells into abnormal cells, and the result of the mass of abnormal cells is a tumor, and - in this case - a cancerous tumor (malignant). Once the cancerous cells begin to invade the neighboring tissues it can spread elsewhere in the body.
Risk Factors for Endometrial Cancer:
Though typically endometrial cancer is found in older women, there are several other risk factors to consider:
- Menopause that begins after age 50
- Menstruation that begins before age 12
- Having Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
- Infrequent periods, sporadic periods
- A history of endometrial polyps
- Estrogen replacement therapy lacking progesterone
- Having colon cancer or breast cancer
- Having gallbladder disease
- Having high blood pressure
Symptoms of Endometrial Cancer:
Endometrial cancer is often found in the early stages, as the symptoms are often strong and therefore provide a red flag to the patient. They include:
- Abnormal uterine bleeding or menstrual periods per your norm
- Menstrual bleeding after menopause
- Frequent episodes of vaginal bleeding after age 40 that last a long time and are heavy flow
- Lower abdominal cramping, or dull pain that lasts and isn't related to another condition
- Clear or pale white vaginal discharge after menopause
- Pelvic pain, or pelvic floor pain
- Pain during or after intercourse
Diagnosis of Endometrial Cancer:
If endometrial cancer is suspected, a pelvic exam could help determine diagnosis along with additional tests to confirm.
- Pap smear, not used a diagnosing exam, but more to rule out other conditions that could cause similar symptoms
- Ultrasound, often a transvaginal ultrasound, to inspect the thickness and texture of the endometrium tissue, a wand-like device is inserted into the vagina using sound waves to create a digital image of the uterus
- Endometrial aspiration, or a biopsy, to remove a sample of the uterine wall for further testing
- Dilation and curettage, also called a "D and C", where the cervix is widened to allow instruments inside the uterus and then a scraping of the uterine walls is taken for further tests
- X-ray, to help determine staging
- CT scan, to help determine staging
- Blood tests, to help determine staging and grade
As with most cancers, once the cancer has been confirmed it is broken down into grades and stages to determine what type of treatment may be most beneficial.
Grades of Endometrial Cancer:
Grade 1: least aggressive, or slow growing
Grade 2: moderately aggressive
Grade 3: very aggressive, or fast growing
Stages of Endometrial Cancer:
Stage I: The cancer is confined to the uterus.
Stage II: The cancer has spread from the uterus to the cervix.
Stage III: The cancer has spread outside of the uterus and cervix, but has not reached beyond the pelvis area. This may include cancer in the lymph nodes closest to the pelvic region.
Stage IV: The cancer has spread beyond the uterus and into the inner surface of bladder, bowel, or other major organs in the abdomen region.
Treatment for Endometrial Cancer:
Much like the other cancers, treatment will likely involve several options that compliment each other, or that progress into each other. They include:
- Radiation therapy
- Hormone therapy
- Surgical removal of the tumor:
- Partial hysterectomy, only the upper part of the uterus is removed and the cervix is left intact
- Hysterectomy, the entire removal of the uterus and cervix, and is generally recommended for women in stage one
- Radical hysterectomy, the uterus, upper portion of the vagina, and the tissue surrounding the cervix, are removed
- Abdominal hysterectomy is performed via a long cut in the abdomen just above the pubic hair line
- Vaginal hysterectomy is performed via a cut in the vagina and the uterus is removed via the opening
While support groups can be helpful for any person with a serious medical condition, it is highly recommended for women with endometrial cancer as it is typically developed at an advanced age.
Some support groups can offer more than just a shoulder to lean on, but also assistance with getting to and from appointments, and emotional support at appointments.
American Cancer Society - saves lives and creates a world with less cancer and more birthdays by helping people stay well, helping people get well, by finding cures, and by fighting back. There are plenty of good links to types of cancer, how to prevent cancer and different types of cancer.
National Cancer Institute: coordinates the National Cancer Program, which conducts and supports research, training, health information dissemination, and other programs with respect to the cause, diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of cancer, rehabilitation from cancer, and the continuing care of cancer patients and the families of cancer patients. Website has links to clinical trials and a comprehensive list of cancer-treating drugs.
Stand Up To Cancer - new initiative created to accelerate groundbreaking cancer research that will get new therapies to patients quickly and save lives. SU2C's goal is to bring together the best and the brightest in the cancer community, encouraging collaboration instead of competition. By galvanizing the entertainment industry, SU2C creates awareness and builds broad public support for this effort.
University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center offers information and treatment options for uterine cancer.