Uterine cancer is the No. 1 gynecological malignancy. The most common type of uterine cancer is endometrial cancer, which develops in the cells of the lining of the uterus. The mortality rate of uterine cancer is on the rise, but early detection is the key to survival.
According to the Mayo Clinic, there are four stages of endometrial cancer. They are:
Stage 1: Cancer develops in the uterus only.
Stage 2: Cancer is found in the uterus and the cervix.
Stage 3: Cancer spreads beyond the uterus, but doesn't reach the rectum or bladder. Pelvic lymph nodes may be affected.
Stage 4: Cancer spreads beyond the pelvic region and can affect the bladder, rectum or more distant areas of the body.
• Post-menopausal vaginal bleeding
• Bleeding between periods
• Unusual discharge from the vagina
• Pain during intercourse
• Pelvic pain
“What we don’t know is killing us,” actress and cancer survivor Fran Drescher explains. "If we recognize the earliest warning whispers, and know what tests are available, then we can become better partners with our physicians."
Fran’s uterine cancer went undiagnosed for two years. Eight doctors and several misdiagnoses later, she discovered the cancer and began treatment.
“I was diagnosed as peri-menopausal,” the actress explains. “A lot of the symptoms of uterine cancer mimic peri-menopause, and they thought I was too young and too thin to have uterine cancer.”
"If you are diagnosed with cancer in stage 1,” Fran explains, “You have a 100 percent chance of making your five-year survival mark. If you are diagnosed in stage 4, your survival rate drops to 20 percent.”
Early detection is key in regard to uterine cancer. OB-GYN Dr. Lisa Masterson explains that unlike a pap smear, a transvaginal ultrasound procedure allows doctors to see inside the uterus and ovaries and check for fibroids, cysts and other abnormalities. “It gives us eyes on the pelvic exam,” she adds.
The ideal candidate for the procedure is a woman with a history of uterine or ovarian cancer, but Fran urges women to demand the procedure as a supplement to their annual pap smear.
Treatment will depend on the type and stage of the cancer, though surgery to remove the uterus is recommended in most cases. Additional treatment options include chemotherapy, radiation therapy and hormone therapy.