If you or your loved one has been diagnosed with womb cancer - Peter Mac is here to help.
Uterine (womb) cancer, also known as endometrial cancer, is the most common gynaecological cancer in Australia.
The uterus is part of a woman’s reproductive system. The uterus is a small, empty space where fertilised eggs settle and grow into babies. It is connected to the vagina by the cervix, which is the opening to the uterus.
The uterus has two layers:
- Endometrium: the lining of the uterus
- Myometrium: the tissue that makes up the uterus muscle.
The most common cancers of the uterus start in the lining of the uterus (the endometrium). Womb cancers of the endometrium include:
- Adenosquamous carcinoma
- Papillary serous carcinoma
- Clear cell carcinoma
- Endometrial sarcoma.
The most common womb cancer in Australia is adenocarcinoma. This cancer starts in the gland cells of the uterus lining. Over 2000 Australia women are diagnosed with this cancer each year and most are treated and cured successfully.
It is hard to know what causes uterine cancer, however the chances of developing this cancer increases if you:
- are overweight or obese
- are between the ages of 50 and 60
- are post-menopausal
- have never had children or are infertile
- have had an ovarian disease such as endometrial hyperplasia where your endometrium grows too thick
- take the breast cancer drug tamoxifen
- have a history of cancer in the family
- have had an ovarian tumour
- have had previous pelvic radiation for cancer
- have high blood pressure or diabetes.
Your first tests for diagnosis
Many women with uterine cancer experience signs or symptoms. The most common symptom is vaginal bleeding that is not normal. If you are worried about your vaginal bleeding or fluid discharge, it is important to see your doctor for a check-up.
Some signs and symptoms of uterine cancer include:
- abnormal, fluid discharge that is watery, pink, white or smelly
- heavy bleeding between periods especially for women aged between 30 and 40
- vaginal bleeding after menopause
- abnormally heavy periods or bleeding between your periods
- finding it hard to urinate (pee/wee)
- pain when urinating
- pain during sex.
Placing you at the centre of our work, your specialists will determine the type of uterine cancer it is.
To identify the correct uterine cancer, our experts will work with you and support you through a medical examination and other key tests such as:
- pathology (blood tests)
- pelvic exam
- imaging (scans and x-rays)
- scopes (using a small camera to look inside)
We are dedicated to providing you with the best testing and treatment for uterine cancer.
We will design and provide a diagnosis and treatment plan that best responds to your condition and individual needs.
To diagnose uterine cancer we may:
- conduct a colposcopy. This is a simple day procedure to see and examine the vagina, cervix and uterus.
- do ultrasounds, take x-rays, CT and PET scans and MRIs. This will be done to show the exact size and place of the cancer.
- perform a biopsy, where we remove a small sample of cells or piece of tissue from the affected area.
The results from these tests will also help us understand how developed your cancer is. If there is uterine cancer, we will identify its stage. Staging is a way to describe or label how far the disease has spread and this will help guide your best treatment plan.
Focusing on you (treatment)
Your Peter Mac doctors will discuss and develop the best treatment plan for you. Treatments will depend on your diagnosis.
Uterine cancer treatment will depend on:
- the type of disease it is
- whether it has spread and how far (its stage)
- your general health and wellbeing
- your needs.
We will develop the most effective treatment plan for your condition and needs. Your treatment team may recommend any of the following treatments as part of your plan:
- surgery to remove the uterus and affected areas
- chemotherapy (anti-cancer drugs) to help shrink or destroy the cancer cells before or after surgery
- radiation therapy (strong and powerful beams of radiation/energy to kill and/or slow cancer cells) either before or after surgery or both
- External beam radiation therapy, directed and delivered from outside of the body.
- Internal radiation therapy called brachytherapy, directed and delivered inside the body, up close to the cancer itself.
- hormone therapy (using hormone blocking medications) to stop selected hormones from growing. Some cancer cells need and use certain hormones to grow. Using medications, hormones are blocked and cancer cells are not able to use them to grow and spread
- clinical trials or
- a combination of these.
Enhancing your care (after treatment)
After effective treatment, patients will continue to see their specialist every three months. These visits are used to monitor your health and may include tests such as pathology, imaging (scans and x-rays) and small biopsies. Your specialist will discuss the best follow-up plan for you.
Living with cancer
We know how hard cancer and treatment can be. Your lifestyle and that of your loved one's will be disrupted and changed. During this time, it is common to struggle with ongoing concerns about cancer and therapy. There are many expert groups available to support you through this time, including:
At Peter Mac, we focus on all aspects of your health and wellbeing. Our uterine cancer experts will help support and guide you to the best information and managed care.
Our specialist nurses can refer you to our:
PATIENT AND CARER RESOURCES
For more information about endometrial carcinoma, its treatment and support for patients and families, download copies of the following resources: