No one knows your body better than you do. Since puberty, you’ve learned to recognize the typical changes your body goes through and certain health issues you might face as a woman.
Like many of us as you get older, your schedule may become busier and often your health gets put on the backburner, which makes it easier to miss when something isn’t quite right.
While you may be familiar with the signs of breast cancer, you might not be as familiar with another female cancer: uterine (endometrial) cancer.
Uterine cancer is a type of cancer that affects the lining of the uterus and occurs when cancer cells in the uterus start to grow out of control. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, uterine cancer is the most common gynecologic cancer, with nearly 65,000 women expected to be diagnosed in the United States this year.
One symptom you should never ignore
All women are at risk for uterine cancer and risk goes up with age. Sometimes women with uterine cancer have no symptoms at all, but for about 90% of women there’s one common symptom that shouldn’t be ignored: abnormal bleeding.
“Bleeding after menopause (or abnormal bleeding prior to menopause) is the most common symptom of uterine or endometrial cancer,” said Robin Lacour, MD, a gynecologic and surgical oncologist with Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center at Banner McKee Medical Center in Loveland, CO. “It is distinctly abnormal.”
There are no routine screening tests for uterine cancer. So, if you’re having bleeding that is not normal for you, especially if you’ve gone through menopause, see a doctor right away. You should also see your doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Abnormal bleeding when premenopausal (prior to menopause)
- Feeling tired all the time
- Loss of appetite or feeling full all the time
- Abdominal or pelvic pain
- Unexplained weight loss
- Changes to your bowel or bladder habits
“It’s important to note that these symptoms aren’t specific to uterine cancer but could also be symptoms of other medical conditions as well, such as ovarian cancer,” Dr. Lacour said. “However, no matter your age, if you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it should warrant a doctor’s visit.”
Your doctor can help you learn whether the bleeding is due to cancer or another condition that requires medical treatment. Then you’ll know what you’re facing, and together you can determine next steps.
Ways to reduce the risk for uterine and other female cancers
There are steps you can take to reduce your cancer risk:
- Stay physically active: Get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week.
- Maintain a healthy weight: The best thing you can do is to eat healthy and keep a weight that is healthy for you. “Most patients don’t realize that obesity is the greatest risk factor,” Dr. Lacour said. “If you need help, don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor about how to get started.”
- Don’t skip your well woman exam: Did you know you should see you gynecologist once a year? Don’t fear the unknown. Make your annual appointment.
- Know your family history: Some uterine cancer can also be genetic or hereditary. It’s important to know your family history and discuss your potential risk with your doctor and if you could benefit from genetic counseling.
- Track possible symptoms: Don’t ignore the signs. If you notice any changes, speak to your doctor or gynecologist.
Uterine cancer, also known as endometrial cancer, is the most common gynecologic cancer in the United States. The good news is that if it’s caught early, it’s highly treatable.
Don’t ignore the signs. The most important thing you can do is to know the warning signs and bring them to your doctor’s attention. To find a Banner MD Anderson expert near you, visit bannerhealth.com.
Other useful articles:
- Recovering Your Sex Life After Breast Cancer
- How to Keep Your Relationships Solid During Serious Illness
- How to Eat Right When You're in Treatment for Cancer