Early symptoms of uterine cancer

In general, the early symptoms of uterine cancer consist of vaginal bleeding and pain. This form of cancer starts in the uterus – also known as the womb –, an organ shaped like a pear located in the pelvis; below the stomach and between the hip bones. The most common type of uterine cancer is known as endometrial adenocarcinoma because it starts in the endometrium; that is, the lining of the uterus. A less common form is called uterine carcinosarcoma.

Uterine cancer symptoms include:

·         Post-menopausal vaginal bleeding.

·         Bleeding between periods.

·         Irregular, watery, or bloody spotting or discharge from the vagina.

·         Longer or heavier bleeding than usual.

·         Pelvic pain.

·         Pain during sex.

·         Difficult or painful urination.

Obviously, only women are at risk of developing endometrial cancer. In addition to gender, these are other risk factors that increase the chances of a woman being diagnosed with this cancer:

·         Being older than 50 years of age.

·         Being obese.

·         Being of African-American ethnicity.

·         Having a family history of colon cancer or Lynch syndrome.

·         Having other medical conditions such as endometrial hyperplasia or diabetes.

·         Having had other cancers such as breast, colon, or ovarian cancer.

·         Taking tamoxifen.

·         Having received radiation therapy for cancer in the pelvic area.

·         Eating high-animal fat foods.

·         Changes in the level of estrogen.

·         Starting menstruation before age 12.

·         Not having had children.

No specific screening test exists for the early detection of uterine cancer in women not at increased risk. Hence the American Cancer Society advises that all women are educated on the risks and early symptoms of uterine cancer by the time they reach menopause, and encouraged to notify their doctors of any vaginal bleeding, discharge or spotting. Women with the aforementioned risk factors should also report any anomalous vaginal bleeding as soon as they notice it. The doctor may conduct one or more tests to establish a diagnosis.

Diagnosing endometrial cancer



·         Pelvic examination

The doctor checks the uterus, vagina, ovaries, and rectum for anomalies.

·         Transvaginal ultrasound

The doctor inserts an ultrasound wand into the vagina and aims it at the uterus; sound waves are used to create a picture of the endometrium.

·         CAT scan


·         PET scan


·         MRI


·         Endometrial biopsy

The doctor inserts a thin tube into the uterus through the cervix and suctions a small sample of tissue. A pathologist then analyzes the sample.

·         Hysteroscopy

A small telescope is inserted into the uterus through the cervix, after the uterus has been filled with a saline solution to provide an improved view inside the uterus. 

·         Dilatation and curettage

The opening of the cervix is dilated and a lighted tube inserted into the vagina through the cervix and into the uterus. A sample of endometrial tissue is removed and examined for cancer cells. D&C is often done at the same time as a hysteroscopy.

·         Cystoscopy and proctoscopy

A lighted tube is inserted into the bladder (cystoscopy) or the rectum (proctoscopy) to look at either organ and/or collect samples.

·         Complete blood count


·         CA 125 test

This blood test looks for high levels of a substance called CA 125 which most uterine and ovarian cancers released into the bloodstream.


Diagnostic tests enable doctors to determine the stage of the cancer, based on the tumor’s location, size, whether or not it has spread, and if it has, how far.

Stages of uterine cancer


In situ; that is, it is located only in the superficial layer of cells of the endometrium and it has not spread to regional lymph nodes or distant organs.


Located only in the body of the uterus and possibly in the glands of the cervix but has not grown into the supporting connective tissue of the cervix (cervical stroma) nor spread to lymph nodes or other organs.


Located only in the endometrium or less than 50% of the myometrium, it has not spread to lymph nodes or distant organs.


It has grown into 50% or more of the myometrium but not outside the body of the uterus.


It has spread to the cervical stroma but not to lymph nodes or other organs beyond the uterus.


It has spread outside of the uterus but remains in the pelvic region.


It has spread to the serosa of the uterus and/or the tissue of the fallopian tubes and ovaries but not to lymph nodes or other organs.


It has spread to the vagina or adjacently to the uterus but not to lymph nodes or distant organs.


It has spread to nearby pelvic lymph nodes but not to lymph nodes around the aorta, inside the bladder or rectum, or to distant organs.


It has spread to the peri-aortic lymph nodes and may or may not have spread to nearby pelvic lymph nodes but not inside the bladder or rectum or distant organs.


It has spread to the mucosa of the rectum or bladder and may or may not have spread to regional lymph nodes but not to distant organs.


It has spread to lymph nodes in the groin, the upper abdomen, the omentum, and/or to distant parts of the body like the bones or lungs.


The survival rates for uterine cancer are based on the stage of the tumor.

Uterine cancer 5 year survival rates


Endometrial adenocarcinoma

Uterine carcinosarcoma






































The stage of the cancer also dictates the treatment options, which can be administered as a standalone therapy or a combination of more than one of the following:

Treatment for uterine cancer by stage

Stage I

·         Surgery.

·         Surgery with radiation or chemotherapy.

·         Hormone therapy with a progesterone-type drug administered orally or through an intra-uterine device.

·         Surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.

Stage II

·         Surgery with radiation or chemotherapy.

·         Surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.

Stage III

·         Surgery with radiation or chemotherapy.

·         Surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.

Stage IV

·         Surgery.

·         Radiation therapy.

·         Hormone therapy.

·         Chemotherapy.


A few final words on the topic of prevention. Even though never having been pregnant is a risk factor for endometrial cancer, taking birth control pills over a prolonged period has been shown to actually reduce the risk. Furthermore, keeping a healthy weight and exercising regularly are also helpful in preventing uterine cancer.