What is womb cancer?

The womb (uterus) is a pear-shaped organ where a baby is carried during pregnancy. It is low in the pelvis (the area between the hips) and is supported by the pelvic floor muscles.

Most womb cancers start in glandular cells found in the lining of the womb (the endometrium). They are called endometrial cancers. There are different types of endometrial cancers. Endometrial cancer is usually diagnosed early and treated successfully. This information is about endometrial cancer.

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Symptoms of womb cancer

If you are worried about womb cancer, we have more information about the signs and symptoms. If you have any symptoms or notice anything that is unusual for you, see your GP straight away.

Causes of womb cancer

There are certain things that can increase the risk of developing womb cancer. These are called risk factors. Having a risk factor does not mean you will get cancer. And if you do not have any risk factors, you may still develop it.

Diagnosis of womb cancer

If you have symptoms, you usually begin by seeing your GP. Your GP may arrange:

Your GP may refer you directly to a gynaecologist. This is a doctor who specialises in treating conditions of a woman’s reproductive system.

You may see the gynaecologist urgently (within 2 weeks) if you have:

  • vaginal bleeding after the menopause
  • a lump in the pelvis that your GP can feel
  • ongoing vaginal bleeding in between your periods.

The gynaecologist will explain any other tests you need to have. This may include:

  • a cervical screening test
  • a biopsy.

Waiting for test results can be a difficult time. We have more information that can help.

Further tests for womb cancer

If womb cancer is diagnosed, you will usually have further tests. These find out more about the position of the cancer and whether it has spread from where it started. This is called staging. The results of these tests will help you and your doctor make decisions about treatment. You may have a:

Staging and grading of womb cancer

The stage and grade of the cancer helps your specialist decide if you need further treatment. Women who have stage 2 or stage 3 cancer are almost always advised to have further treatment.

Treatment for womb cancer

A team of specialists will discuss your treatment options. This is called a multidisciplinary team (MDT).

The MDT will look at many factors when planning your treatment options. These will include:

  • your general health
  • the type and size of the tumour
  • whether the cancer has begun to spread.

Most women are offered treatment to cure womb cancer. This is usually surgery. Other treatments may be given after surgery to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back. This is called adjuvant treatment. Sometimes it is not possible to have treatment to cure womb cancer. Treatment can still be given to shrink and control the cancer and to relieve symptoms.

Your doctor will explain the different treatments and their side effects. They will also talk to you about the things you should consider when making treatment decisions.

The types of treatment you might have include:

  • Surgery

    Surgery to remove the womb (a hysterectomy) is usually the main treatment for womb cancer. Sometimes surgery is used to treat womb cancer that has spread.

  • Radiotherapy

    Radiotherapy uses high-energy rays to destroy cancer cells, while doing as little harm as possible to normal cells. Radiotherapy may be used to reduce the risk of cancer coming back after surgery. It may also be given as the main treatment for womb cancer.

  • Chemotherapy

    Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. It is sometimes used to reduce the risk of cancer coming back after surgery or radiotherapy. Or it may be used to help control cancer and relieve symptoms.

  • Hormonal therapy

    The hormones oestrogen and progesterone can affect how cells in the womb lining grow. Some women are offered hormonal therapy to try to shrink and control the cancer and relieve symptoms.

You may also be invited to take part in a clinical trial.

If you are of child-bearing age and want to have children in the future, it is important to talk to your doctor about your fertility before you start treatment. For some younger women with early-stage, low-grade cancer, it may be possible to have fertility-sparing treatment.

After womb cancer treatment

Follow-up

After your treatment, you will have regular check-ups. These will include an internal examination. These will be every few months at first. Eventually, you may only be seen once a year. If you have any problems or new symptoms in between appointments, it is important to contact your cancer doctor or specialist nurse as soon as possible.

Some women do not have routine appointments. Instead, they are asked to contact their cancer specialist or nurse if they have new symptoms or are worried about anything. Important symptoms to be aware of are:

  • bleeding from the vagina or back passage
  • pain in the pelvic area.

If womb cancer comes back in the same area, it can often be treated successfully.

Sex life

Womb cancer, its treatment and side effects may affect your sex life and how you feel about yourself. Some treatments can cause an early menopause. We have more information about coping with menopausal symptoms.

Well-being and recovery

Even if you already have a healthy lifestyle, you may choose to make some positive lifestyle changes after treatment.

Small changes to the way you live can improve your health and well-being and help your body recover. These may include eating well and keeping active.

How we can help

Macmillan Cancer Support Line
The Macmillan Support Line offers confidential support to people living with cancer and their loved ones. If you need to talk, we'll listen.
0808 808 00 00
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