Uterine Cancer


Uterine cancer is the most common form of gynecological cancer, affecting an estimated 31,000 to 35,000 women each year. It usually develops after menopause. Endometrial cancer-cance that begins in the endometrium (the lining of the uterus)-accounts for the vast majority of uterine cancer cases. Uterine sarcoma, which begins in the wall of the uters, is a very aggressive but relatively rare form of uterine cancer. If uterine cancer is detected and treated early, it is highly curable.

A high level of estrogen is the chief risk factor for uterine cancer; estrogen stimulates endometrial cells to grow more quickly than normal, resulting in a precancerous condition called endometrial hyperplasia. Excess estrogen in the body may be the result of estrogen-only hormone replacement therapy and an overabundance of fat cells (which stim ulate estrogen production). High-risk groups for uterine cancer include women who reach menopause after age 52, women on long-term tamoxifen therapy, women who have never given birth, women with irregular periods, and women with a family history of uterine cancer.

Signs and Symptoms

In its early stages, uterine cancer often produces no symptoms. When it reaches later stages, the most common symptoms are:

  • Heavy periods or vaginal bleeding between periods
  • Vaginal bleeding after menopause
  • Vaginal discharge, ranging from watery and pink to thick and brown

Conventional Medical Treatment

Routine Pap smear tests rarely detect uterine cancer before any symptoms appear, but a yearly pelvic exam is an important screening procedure. Most tumors are discovered after they have grown and begin producing non-menstrual bleeding. If you notice any abnormal bleeding, see your physician immediately. A biopsy of endometrial tissue is necessary to confirm the presence of cancerous cells.

Most cases of uterine cancer require surgical removal of the uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes. In premenopausal women, an ovary may be left to forestall menopausal symptoms and osteoporosis. Radiation is generally administered following surgery, and if the tumor has spread, chemotherapy also may be indicated. (See "Conventional Medical Treatment" in "Bladder Cancer" entry for more information on radiation and chemotherapy.) If the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, progesterone therapy may be used to limit the spread of the cancer.

Complementary and Alternative Treatments

Traditional Chinese Medicine

Acupuncture In one Russian study, acupuncture was shown to be effective in relieving the pain and edema that often result from radiation treatments. Another study found that laser acupuncture decreased radiation edema by 22 to 37 percent.

Acupressure This modality is considered useful in balancing chi and reducing fatigue (typical acupoints targeted for this purpose are Large Intestine 4 and 10, Conception Vessel 6, Stomach 36, Lung 9, and Kidney 3).

Chinese Herbal Therapy Aloe vera has been scientifically proven to reduce the production and spread of cancerous tumors-including those the uterus-and to fortify the immune system an have ginseng, licorice, and garlic.

Because uterine cancer has been associated with feelings of depression and emotional loss, an herbalist also may choose to treat the disease by prescribing herbs to remedy these psychological imbalances.

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