Uterine Cancer – Stages, Symptoms, Treatment, and Prognosis
Uterine cancer is a common term that is used to specify each type of cancer that develops in the uterus of any female. The most common type of uterine cancer is endometrial cancer. It is the sarcoma that develops in the inner lining of the uterus.
But if cancer develops in the muscle walls of the uterus, then the type of cancer is called uterine sarcoma. This uterine sarcoma is actually a rare kind of uterine cancer, but cases are mostly diagnosed with endometrial cancer in the form of uterine cancer. Hence, the terms uterine cancer and endometrial cancer are used interchangeably.
Before diving directly into knowing what are the different stages of uterine cancer and their symptoms. Let us first look at the function that the endometrium does for a female body.
The endometrium forms the inner lining of the uterus. Whenever a female gets pregnant, this endometrium lining thickens due to the release of a large amount of estrogen hormone and hence prepares the uterus for carrying a baby. But when there is no pregnancy, the level of hormone estrogen decreases, and that of male hormone progesterone increases. This leads to the shedding of the uterine lining. And when sarcoma develops, then this lining formation and its sustenance to carry a baby is affected to a large extent.
Having known what is uterine or endometrial cancer and what is the usefulness of endometrium in a female body, now let us know the different stages in which uterine cancer can be diagnosed. Before knowing the stages, first, let us know their meaning. Stage refers to the condition of cancer, and the amount of advancement it has achieved. It tells us the limit till it has spread and which parts of the body cancer have affected. Based on this knowledge then the further treatment procedure is decided and started.
To find out the stage of cancer, usually, ultrasound and biopsy are conducted. Following the results, the stage is figured out. This is done by following the American Joint Committee of Cancer TNM staging system. Here, TNM stands for Tumor, Lymph nodes, and Metastasis. Let us know in brief about each of their significance.
● A tumor (T): It shows the growth of the developed tumor. What is the size of the tumor and if it has spread to some neighboring organ of the diseased area?
● Lymph Node(N): These are actually small glands that are found throughout the body. They are in the shape of beans and form a part of the body’s immune system. This indicates if cancer has spread to the nearby lymph nodes.
● Metastasis(M): This staging system indicates if cancer has reached the lymph nodes situated farther away from the diseased area or to the other organs of the body.
Upon diagnosis, the doctor will assign any of the above TNM staging terms to your cancer. This will indicate the extent to which your cancer has spread. And hence following this, the broader category of staging is used. Hence, in endometrial cancer, there are fund four stages. The 4th stage is the final stage of cancer, where cancer has spread to the far away parts of the body as well. Whereas stage 1 is the stage where the cancer is in its initial stage and hasn’t spread much.
Now, let us know about each stage of uterine or endometrial cancer in detail.
This is the most preliminary and initial stage of uterine cancer. At this stage, the cancer cells have not spread much. They might have affected the glands of the cervix but have not yet reached the tissues.
This is the stage of endometrial cancer where the cancer cells have spread beyond the linings of the uterus. It has also now been found in the areas of the cervix has not gone beyond the uterus.
To identify this stage, the cancer cells are detected in the nearby lymph nodes and organs in the body. Some of the areas of spreading include the vagina, lymph nodes, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. But the cells have yet not reached the bladder and the linings of the rectum.
At this stage, the cancer cells have spread way beyond the uterus walls. They can now be identified in the rectum, bladder, and even the lungs of the patient’s body.
Studies have found that in all the patients who are diagnosed with uterine cancer, almost 70% of them are diagnosed at the first stage. Whereas 10% are there in which cancer has spread to distant parts of the body. While the remaining 20% includes those patients in whom the cancer is spread to the nearby lymph nodes of the disease area.
Depending upon the stage of cancer the symptoms witnessed may vary. So, it is important to know the warning signs and identify them well before time to start your treatment. The various symptoms that may be found in different stages of cancer are mentioned below. Let us have a look at them.
● Watery discharge from the vagina
● Bleeding from the vagina even after menopause
● Unusual bleeding between the menstrual cycles
● Bleeding in between periods.
● Unusual discharge
● Vaginal bleeding in between periods
● Unusual vaginal discharge
● Abdominal and pelvic pain
● Painful sex
● Frequent bloating
● Feeling of a developed tumor in the belly
All the symptoms are the same as that are found in the other stages, except that you may feel uncomfortable in other parts of the body as well till where cancer has spread. Other signs include
● Joint pain
● Breathing problems like shortness of breath
Having known about the various stages and the symptoms that can help in identifying them, now let us know the methods that can be used to treat uterine cancer. Usually, the type of treatment to be employed to treat uterine cancer is dependent on the stage of cancer. So, let us try and look at the different methods that are helpful in each of these stages.
● Hysterectomy: It is the most common method that is used to treat uterine cancer. In this method, surgery is conducted to remove the affected part of the uterus. It is done to resist the spread of the cancer cells to any further parts of the body. Even based on the spread, the doctor may also remove the complete uterus, ovaries, fallopian tube, and cervix from the female body.
● Radiotherapy: To kill the cancer cells so as to stop them from traveling and reaching other parts of the body, radiation is put on the cancer cells. This leads to their destruction and hence, resists the spread.
● Chemotherapy: In this method of treatment, the patient is kept on cancer-treating medicines. This method is the first method of treatment that is used to treat any form of cancer. Using the medicines the cancer cells are destructed and their growth and spread are prevented. In this method, the medicine is given to the patient usually via saline channels along with saline water. This helps in easy transport of the medicine to the affected areas and kills the cancer cells.
● Progestin therapy: This is the method that is used to pause the growth of the cancer cells. This is done usually when the patient is pregnant usually. Since no other treatment method can be used effectively during pregnancy so progestine therapy is done. In this, hormones are injected into the female body to shrink cancer. Though this is not the most effective method and has various risks associated with it. During this treatment, the patient needs to be kept under close watch because, if the therapy stops working or the body starts resisting the therapy then unknowingly cancer will spread to a great extent.
The method of treatment to be used depends primarily on the condition of the patient, her medical history, and the stage of cancer. Hence comes the term prognosis, which is mostly used by doctors. It can be defined as the best estimation that your doctor does to find out how your uterine cancer will affect you and how well will you respond to the treatment. Based on it the treatment is started and progress is measured.
Uterine cancer is among the most unwanted and worst form of cancer that is found to develop in the female body. Studies show that the chances of developing this cancer are very less in females who are on their menstrual cycle. But those whose menstrual cycle is over are at high risk of developing endometrial cancer.
Although it is not so easy to identify cancer at a very early stage, by following the above-mentioned symptoms and being careful we can be aware. So, try to consult your doctor as soon as possible if you discover any of these symptoms. The earlier the diagnosis the earlier will the treatment start. And hence this will help in treating the disease well before time and properly.