Symptoms of Uterine Cancer

Uterine cancer, also known as endometrial cancer, refers to cancer that starts in the uterus. Early symptoms include vaginal bleeding and pelvic pain, and early treatment 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. 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. 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

Some women with uterine cancer experience pelvic pain and cramping. They may also have pain with urination or intercourse. Any new pain is a reason to see your doctor right away.

Rare Symptoms

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

New Vaginal Discharge

While most women experience vaginal bleeding with uterine cancer, some experience simply a change in discharge with no blood present. The discharge can be watery and sometimes tinged with blood. Most changes in discharge are not caused by cancer, but about 10% of women with uterine sarcoma have abnormal discharge. 

Feeling a Lump

If you have a feeling of heaviness in your abdomen or have felt a lump there, it could be a sign of uterine cancer. About 10% of women with uterine sarcoma are able to feel the tumor simply by pressing on their lower abdomens. A lump could also be a benign tumor, however, so always check with your doctor to assess whether it's cancer 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 to be safe. 

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, a surgery to remove the uterus. If part of your treatment involves removing the uterus or ovaries surgically, you will no longer be able to become pregnant. Talk with your doctor if you are of childbearing age and still wish to have children. 

Early Menopause

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

Cancer

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. Fortunately, most uterine cancers are caught early before the cancer has had a chance to metastasize. 

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, meaning it has not spread to other areas of the body yet, 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, especially bleeding or even spotting.

Risk factors for uterine cancer include:

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. If you notice any abnormal bleeding such as bleeding between periods or bleeding after menopause, see your doctor right away. The sooner uterine cancer is caught, the more successful the treatment is. 

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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.

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

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