At Boston Medical Center (BMC), the care of patients with endometrial cancer is a collaborative, multidisciplinary process. BMC’s Cancer Care Center organizes its services around each patient, bringing together the expertise of diverse specialists to manage care from the first consultation through treatment and follow-up visits. The Cancer Care Center is dedicated to providing treatment that is effective and innovative in curing and controlling cancer, while managing its impact on quality of life.
As the primary teaching affiliate of the Boston University School of Medicine, BMC combines personal, patient-focused care with the state-of-the-art-expertise and technological advances of a major teaching hospital. BMC is at the forefront of clinical practice, surgical expertise, and research in oncology.
In addition to endometrial cancer, BMC’s gynecologic oncologists have expertise in treating many types of female pelvic cancers, including cancers of the ovaries, cervix, vulva, and trophoblast (placenta). Patients with a diagnosis or strong suspicion of cancer are given appointments within 72 hours.
What Is Endometrial Cancer?
Endometrial cancer begins in the uterus, which is part of the female reproductive system. The uterus is a hollow organ that extends in one direction towards the vagina and in the other direction towards the fallopian tubes and ovaries. It is the location where a fetus grows during pregnancy. The uterine wall has two layers: the endometrium and the myometrium. The endometrium is the inner lining of the uterus, where endometrial cancer begins. The myometrium is the outer muscle layer of the uterine wall. Most of the cancers that begin in the uterus do so in the endometrial glands.
Symptoms of Endometrial Cancer
The most common symptoms of endometrial cancer are
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding
- Other vaginal discharge
Patients with concerns about any of the symptoms listed above are urged to consult their physician immediately.
Causes of Endometrial Cancer
Although the exact causes of endometrial cancer remain unknown, certain risk factors—things that increase an individual's chances of developing a cancer—have been identified. While risk factors may be useful in identifying high-risk individuals, they do not determine whether an individual develops a disease. Some risk factors, such as diet, are within an individual’s control, while others, such as age, are not.
Some of the risk factors for endometrial cancer include
- Age: Older women have a greater risk of developing endometrial cancer.
- Diabetes: The risk of developing endometrial cancer is four times greater for women who have diabetes than for those who do not (American Cancer Society 2015).
- Estrogen hormone therapy: Estrogen hormone therapy has been proven to increase the risk of endometrial cancer in women who have a uterus. Progesterone drugs are usually given with estrogen to reduce a woman’s risk of developing endometrial cancer; this is referred to as combination hormone therapy.
- Family history
- Genetic syndromes: Certain hereditary conditions, such as Lynch syndrome, may increase the risk of developing endometrial cancer. Lynch syndrome is characterized by mutations (changes to a cell’s genetic makeup) in the MLH1 or MSH2 genes. Women with Lynch syndrome have an increased risk of 40% to 60% of developing endometrial cancer (American Cancer Society 2015).
- Polycystic ovary syndrome: Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a women’s health condition characterized by abnormal hormone levels, which can result in a number of medical issues, including (but not limited to) infertility, menstrual problems, increased androgen (male hormone) levels, and facial and body hair growth. Increased estrogen and decreased progesterone levels associated with PCOS can increase a woman’s risk of getting endometrial cancer.
- Using birth control pills: Taking birth control medication is known to decrease the risk of developing endometrial cancer.
At this point in time, no screening procedures are in place to detect endometrial cancer. However, patients with a strong family history of endometrial or colon cancer may be eligible for genetic counseling. For more information, patients can visit Genetic Counseling or talk to their physician to request a referral.
American Cancer Society. 2015. Detailed Guide: Endometrial (Uterine) Cancer. PDF. http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003097-pdf.pdf
National Cancer Institute. 2010. What You Need To Know About™ Cancer of the Uterus. PDF. Bethesda: National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human