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You are here : 3-RX.com > Medical Encyclopedia > Diseases and Conditions > Cancer of the Uterus
      Category : Health Centers > Cancers and Tumors

Cancer of the Uterus

Alternate Names : Uterine Cancer, Endometrial Cancer, Cancer of the Endometrium

Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors | Symptoms & Signs | Diagnosis & Tests | Prevention & Expectations | Treatment & Monitoring

Cancer of the uterus occurs in the lining of the uterus, called the endometrium. It is sometimes called endometrial cancer. Cancer of the uterus is the most frequent and most curable type of cancer that affects a woman's reproductive system. Among women, it is the fourth most common cancer after breast cancer, lung cancer, and colorectal cancer.

What is going on in the body?

The cells that line the uterus respond to signals sent by estrogen and progesterone, 2 hormones made in the ovaries. In the first 2 weeks of a woman's monthly cycle, estrogen makes these cells divide and grow as the uterus prepares for pregnancy. During the second 2 weeks, progesterone prepares the lining of the uterus for an embryo to implant.

If pregnancy does not occur, the levels of both hormones fall sharply. This causes the lining of the uterus to slough off. This process is known as menstruation. The monthly menstrual cycle keeps the endometrium from growing too much.

Some women's bodies do not make progesterone. Others make high levels of estrogen. In both cases, the cells lining the uterus grow continuously and are not sloughed off regularly. This makes it more likely that precancerous changes of the endometrium will occur. If a woman is not treated for this, cancer of the uterus may develop.

Cancer of the uterus is most common in women between the ages of 50 to 65. But it can also occur in younger women.

What are the causes and risks of the disease?

No one knows exactly what causes cancer of the uterus, but certain factors increase a woman's risk. For example, some women's bodies make high levels of estrogen that are not balanced by progesterone. This is called unopposed estrogen. Cancer of the uterus is also more likely in women who have the following conditions:

  • obesity, because fat cells can make extra estrogen
  • a history of infertility
  • late menopause, meaning after age 55
  • polycystic ovary syndrome, a condition in which fluid-filled sacs form on the ovaries
  • estrogen therapy for more than 1 year without taking progesterone as well
  • estrogen combined with less than 7 days of progesterone a month
  • A woman may also have a higher risk for this type of cancer if she has one of the following conditions:

  • high blood pressure
  • diabetes
  • cancer of the breast, ovaries, or colorectal cancer
  • few or no children. The more children a woman has delivered, the lower her risk for uterine cancer.
  • past use of tamoxifen, a medication used to prevent breast cancer from coming back
  • a family history of cancer of the uterus


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    Cancer of the Uterus: Symptoms & Signs

    Author: Eva Martin, MD
    Reviewer: Eileen McLaughlin, RN, BSN
    Date Reviewed: 07/13/01

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