Cancer of the womb (uterus) is a common cancer affecting the female reproductive system. It is also called uterine cancer and endometrial cancer.
Abnormal vaginal bleeding is the most common symptom of womb cancer.
If you have been through the menopause, any vaginal bleeding is considered to be abnormal. If you have not yet been through the menopause, unusual bleeding may include bleeding between your periods.
You should see you GP as soon as possible if you experience any unusual vaginal bleeding. While it is unlikely that it is caused by womb cancer, it is best to be sure.
Your GP will examine you and ask about your symptoms. If they suspect you may have a serious problem, or if they are unsure about a diagnosis, they will refer you to a specialist for further tests.
Types of womb cancer
The vast majority of womb cancers begin in the cells that make up the lining of the womb (called the endometrium), which is why cancer of the womb is often called endometrial cancer.
In rare cases, womb cancer can start in the muscles surrounding the womb. This type of cancer is called uterine sarcoma and may be treated in a different way to endometrial cancer.
This article uses the term womb cancer and mostly includes information about endometrial cancer. See the Cancer Research UK website for more information about soft tissue sarcomas.
Womb cancer is separate to other cancers of the female reproductive system, such as ovarian cancer and cervical cancer.
Why does womb cancer happen?
It is not clear exactly what causes womb cancer, but certain things can increase your risk of developing the condition.
A hormone imbalance is one of the most important risks for womb cancer. Specifically, your risk is increased if you have high levels of a hormone called oestrogen in your body.
A number of things can cause this hormone imbalance, including the menopause, obesity, diabetes and hormone replacement therapy (HRT). There is also a small increase in the risk of womb cancer with long term use of the breast cancer drug tamoxifen.
It is 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.
How is womb cancer treated?
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 used, often in conjunction with surgery.
A type of hormone therapy may be used if you are yet to go 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. You may find it physically more difficult to have sex and you may 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.