Cancer of the womb or uterus is the most common gynaecological cancer. Usually beginning in the lining of the womb, the endometrium, it is often called endometrial cancer. Over 9,300 women are diagnosed with endometrial cancer every year, making it the fourth most common cancer in women and the most common gynaecological cancer.
Endometrial cancer primarily affects women after the menopause. Unfortunately, early symptoms of womb cancer can easily be missed. The main symptom is unusual bleeding from the vagina, with about 90% of cases diagnosed due to this symptom. This bleeding may be light with a water discharge and get heavier over time. Many women will ignore their symptoms if they have had a recent cervix cancer smear, however this test cannot detect endometrial cancer. If you have this symptom, you should visit your GP, who will refer you for further tests. Although it should be noted that most people with abnormal bleeding will not have endometrial cancer.
There are many different types of endometrial cancer with the majority occurring with no obvious cause. Although, it is known that increased levels of the hormone oestrogen is linked to an increased risk. High levels of oestrogen can be caused by several factors, including obesity. In addition, Lynch Syndrome is a hereditary condition that is linked to a small number of endometrial cancers. While It is not always possible to prevent womb cancer, there are some factors that are thought to reduce your risk, including maintaining a healthy weight.
The most common treatment for endometrial cancer is a hysterectomy, which is the surgical removal of the womb. Early detection and treatment of endometrial cancer usually means that it can be cured by surgery alone, without chemotherapy. This treatment means that you will no longer be able to menstruate or get pregnant.
“I was only 36 when I was diagnosed with endometrial cancer and had just got married. The symptoms had started 18 months before. I had always had irregular periods but I then began to have bleeding, particularly after sex. Despite reassurance from my GP, I knew something wasn’t right. When I moved to a different area, my new GP referred me for tests, which found cancerous cells in the lining of my womb. Fortunately, the cancer was at an early stage.
“I was told I should have a hysterectomy as soon as possible, and the operation also removed my ovaries. In retrospect, I wished I’d challenged that decision – if I’d kept my ovaries, I might have been able to try IVF or surrogacy – but in the shock of the moment I didn’t question any advice.
“Seven years on I have just qualified as a midwife. My advice to other women is, listen to your body, don’t be put off if you really think something is wrong, ask as many questions as you need to and don’t be afraid to get a second opinion.”