Symptoms of Uterine Cancer

Uterine cancer, also known as endometrial cancer, refers to cancer that starts in the uterus. The first symptoms usually include vaginal bleeding and pelvic pain, and treatment at early stages can be very successful. The uterus is a pear-shaped reproductive organ. The inside lining of the uterus is called the endometrium; this is usually where the cancer cells first develop. About 10% of uterine cancers are known as uterine sarcomas, tumors that start in the muscular layer of the uterus. 

Each year over 65,000 women are diagnosed with uterine cancer.

a woman at a doctor's office

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Frequent Symptoms

The most common symptom of uterine cancer is abnormal vaginal bleeding. Certain risk factors are linked to uterine cancer. The majority of women diagnosed with uterine cancer are post-menopausal and around 60 years old. It is uncommon in women under 45 years old to be diagnosed with uterine cancer. It is more likely to affect White women, but more Black women die from this condition.

It is helpful to remember that many of the symptoms of uterine cancer can also be caused by other less serious health issues like benign fibroid tumors

Vaginal Bleeding After Menopause

Experiencing heavy, period-like bleeding after menopause can be an early sign of uterine cancer. It’s also possible to experience light bleeding or spotting with uterine cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, about 85% of women diagnosed with uterine sarcoma experienced irregular vaginal bleeding. 

Bleeding Between Periods

If you have been experiencing heavy bleeding between your periods, talk with your gynecologist, since this could be a sign of uterine cancer. Any abnormal bleeding, especially if it lasts beyond two weeks, can be an early warning sign of uterine cancer. 

Pelvic Pain

Any new pain is a reason to see your doctor right away.

Uterine cancer can be associated with pelvic pain, cramping, or pain with urination or intercourse.

Rare Symptoms

While most women will experience bleeding as a first sign of uterine cancer, more symptoms can develop over time. 

New Vaginal Discharge

Most changes in vaginal discharge are not caused by cancer, but about 10% of women with uterine sarcoma have abnormal discharge. 

You should talk to your doctor if you have a change in your vaginal discharge, with or without the presence of blood.

Feeling a Lump

If you have a feeling of heaviness in your abdomen or have felt a lump there, it is likely a benign tumor. However, about 10% of women with uterine sarcoma are able to feel the tumor simply by pressing on their lower abdomen, so always check with your doctor if you notice a new lump. 

Weight Loss

Unintentional weight loss can be a late side effect of uterine cancer. If you or a loved one have recently lost weight without trying, see your doctor about it. 

Complications

Uterine cancer can lead to complications if it spreads beyond the uterus. The treatments, such as radiation or surgery, can also produce complications.

Changes in Fertility

Most treatment plans for uterine cancer involve a hysterectomy, which is the surgical removal of the uterus. If part of your treatment involves the removal of your uterus or ovaries, you will no longer be able to become pregnant.

You and your doctor can discuss your options if you are of childbearing age and still wish to have children. 

Early Menopause

If cancer has spread to your ovaries, they may need to be removed as well. Without your ovaries, your body would stop producing estrogen and progesterone, and you would begin menopause, regardless of your age.

Cancer

Most uterine cancers are caught early before it has had a chance to metastasize. 

But uterine cancer can spread to nearby pelvic organs and beyond. It usually spreads to the ovaries first and may also go to the lymph nodes, bladder, liver, and kidney.

When to See a Doctor/Go to the Hospital

Going to the doctor as soon as you develop symptoms of uterine cancer is the best way to beat it. As with most cancers, the earlier uterine cancer is diagnosed, the easier it is to treat. The five-year survival rate for women with localized uterine cancer that has not spread to other areas of the body is 95%. 

Most women who experience uterine cancer develop abnormal vaginal bleeding, so any bleeding needs to be examined by your physician. 

If you are at increased risk for uterine cancer, it is crucial that you see your doctor as soon as you develop any unusual symptoms.

Risk factors for uterine cancer include:

  • Age over 70 years old
  • Obesity
  • Late menopause
  • Never giving birth
  • Diabetes
  • Hypertension
  • Estrogen treatment 
  • Hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer

It is also important to keep up with regular wellness checks and doctor appointments. Uterine cancer can sometimes be detected during a routine pelvic exam with your gynecologist. There is no screening tool, but a physical exam may catch cancer of the uterus. 

A Word From Verywell

Common uterine cancer symptoms include abnormal vaginal bleeding and pelvic pain. It’s helpful to remember that these symptoms do not always mean cancer; they can also be present with benign conditions such as fibroids. Getting routine medical check-ups, including following the recommendations for gynecology visits, is the best way to prevent the progression of uterine cancer and other health problems before they reach an advanced stage.

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Article Sources
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  2. American Cancer Society. What Is Uterine Sarcoma? Updated November 13, 2017.

  3. American Cancer Society. Key Statistics for Endometrial Cancer. Updated January 8, 2020.

  4. American Cancer Society. Signs and Symptoms of Uterine Sarcomas. Updated November 13, 2017.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What Are the Symptoms? Updated August 9, 2019.

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  7. John Hopkins Medicine. Endometrial Cancer. Updated 2020.

  8. The Angeles Clinic. Uterine Cancer - Endometrial Cancer. Updated 2021.

  9. National Cancer Institute. Endometrial Cancer Screening. Updated March 18, 2020. 

  10. American Cancer Society. Survival Rates for Endometrial Cancer. Updated January 8, 2020.

  11. American Cancer Society. Can Endometrial Cancer Be Found Early? Updated July 24, 2020