MURRAY, Utah (Good Things Utah) – Cancer is a complex and devastating disease that affects millions of people worldwide. Women face unique challenges when it comes to cancer.
September is National Gynecological Cancer Awareness Month, an important time to educate women about uterine and endometrial cancer.
More than 106,000 women in the United States this year are expected to be diagnosed with a gynecological cancer, which encompasses all cancers of the female reproductive system, including the cervix, ovaries, uterus, vagina, and vulva, according to the National Cancer Institute.
All women are at risk for these cancers and risk increases with age. More than 32,000 will die from one of these cancers this year. Black women, however, are nearly twice as likely to die from endometrial cancer as white women, even though the disease is slightly more common among white women.
Each gynecological cancer is unique with different signs and symptoms, prevention strategies, as well as risk factors, according to Emily Prendergast, MD, an Intermountain Health oncologist who specializes in gynecologic cancersat Intermountain LDS Hospital in Salt Lake City.
“The best treatment for cancer is prevention,” said Dr. Prendergast. “By staying informed about the cancers that affect women and taking proactive steps such as regular screenings, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and understanding personal risk factors, women can reduce their risk of developing cancer. That said, there are some risk factors that are out of our control and if cancer is a possibility, we’re committed to detecting it early when it’s most treatable.”
Here is some essential information about uterine cancer that Dr. Prendergrast says every woman should know to prioritize their health.
In the United States, uterine or endometrial cancer is the most common cancer affecting the reproductive system of women.
Uterine or endometrial cancer mainly develops after menopause. About 3% of women will receive a diagnosis of uterine cancer at some point during their lives.
Symptoms and Causes
If you notice unusual pain, heavy or irregular vaginal bleeding talk to your primary care provider or healthcare provider. It’s important to get an accurate diagnosis and get the proper treatment as soon as possible.
Some of the symptoms of uterine or endometrial cancer include:
- Cramping in your pelvis, just below your belly or lower abdominal pain that won’t go away
- Irregular or unusual vaginal bleeding between periods before menopause
- Spotting after menopause, even a slight amount
- Vaginal discharge if you’re post-menopausal
- Prolonged, heavy or frequent vaginal bleeding if you’re older than 40
It’s important to pay attention to your body and know what is normal for you, so you can recognize anything unusual and if it goes on for two weeks or longer see a doctor.
When it comes to uterine or endometrial cancer there are several risk factors, many of them relate to the balance between estrogen and progesterone, said Dr. Prendergast.
These risk factors include:
- A condition called polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
- Taking estrogen without taking progesterone too
- Family history
- Ovarian diseases
- Menstrual and reproductive history
If you are diagnosed with endometrial cancer, the exact type of cancer will help your care team figure out the best treatment.
Most people with endometrial cancer will need surgery. You’ll most likely have a hysterectomy, with the surgeon removing your uterus and cervix.
Other treatments may include:
- Radiation therapy
- Hormone therapy
- Targeted therapy
“Awareness and early detection are key factors in improving outcomes for women at risk or facing cancer,” said Dr. Prendergast. “Remember, timely medical intervention and self-awareness play vital roles in combating cancer, ensuring better treatment options, and ultimately saving lives.”
Stay proactive, seek support from healthcare professionals, and encourage other women to do the same.
Go here to learn more about cancer care at Intermountain Health or call 801-408-7500 to schedule an appointment with Dr. Prendergast.
Sponsored by Intermountain Health.