Cancer of the womb (uterine or endometrial cancer) is a common cancer that affects the female reproductive system. It’s more common in women who have been through the menopause.
Symptoms of womb cancer
The most common symptom of womb cancer is vaginal bleeding that is unusual for you (abnormal).
If you’ve been through the menopause, any vaginal bleeding is considered abnormal.
If you have not yet been through the menopause, abnormal bleeding may include very heavy periods or bleeding between your periods.
When to see a GP
See your GP as soon as possible if you experience any unusual vaginal bleeding. While it’s unlikely to be caused by womb cancer, it’s best to be sure.
Your GP will ask about your symptoms and offer an internal examination. They will refer you to a specialist if necessary for further tests to rule out any serious problem.
Types of womb cancer
Most womb cancers begin in the cells that make up the lining of the womb (the endometrium). This is why cancer of the womb is often called endometrial cancer.
In rare cases, womb cancer can start in the muscle wall of the womb. This type of cancer is called uterine sarcoma and may be treated in a different way. Read more about soft tissue sarcomas.
Womb cancer is separate from other cancers of the female reproductive system, such as ovarian cancer and cervical cancer.
Why does womb cancer happen?
It’s not clear exactly what causes womb cancer, but certain things can increase your risk of developing it.
One of the main risk factors for womb cancer is higher levels of a hormone called oestrogen in your body.
A number of things can cause your oestrogen levels to be high, including obesity. There is also a small increase in the risk of womb cancer with long-term use of the breast cancer drug tamoxifen.
It’s not always possible to prevent womb cancer, but some things are thought to reduce your risk. This includes maintaining a healthy weight and the long-term use of some types of contraception.
Treating womb cancer
The most common treatment for womb cancer is the surgical removal of the womb (hysterectomy).
A hysterectomy can cure womb cancer in its early stages, but you will no longer be able to get pregnant. Surgery for womb cancer is also likely to include the removal of the ovaries and fallopian tubes.
Radiotherapy or chemotherapy are also sometimes given too.
A type of hormone therapy (progestogen) may be used if you have not yet been through the menopause and would still like to have children.
Even if your cancer is advanced and the chances of a cure are small, treatment can still help to relieve symptoms and prolong your life.
Living with womb cancer
Living with cancer is challenging, and womb cancer can affect your life in specific ways.
For example, your sex life may be affected if you have a hysterectomy, especially if your ovaries are removed. You may find it physically more difficult to have sex and also have a reduced sex drive.
You may find it beneficial to talk to other people about your condition, including family members, your partner or other people with womb cancer.