What are the Signs of Womb Cancer?
The womb is a pear-shaped muscular organ in a woman’s lower abdomen – the lining is known as the endometrium or the endometrial layer, and this thickens and becomes full of blood vessels each month as the menstrual cycle progress. If an egg is fertilised, it will implant itself in this lining which is where it receives nourishment and develops into a baby. However, if you don’t become pregnant, this lining is shed through your monthly period and your menstrual cycle begins again. Womb cancer develops in this lining or in the wall of your womb – it is the fourth most common form of cancer amongst women in the UK, with around 7,800 women diagnosed each year. It is more common in women over the age of 50. It’s been found that the cancer can often start in your womb and spreads to invade the tissue surrounding the area, or spreads to the bloodstream or lymph system to then infect other areas of the body – this spread of the disease is known as metastasis. There are two types of womb caner – endometrial, which is the most common form and develops in the lining of the womb, and uterine sarcoma, which is less common and begins in the cells in the muscular wall of the womb.
The most common symptom of womb cancer is bleeding from your vagina, and this is especially identifiable if you’ve been through the menopause. It’s important to be aware of your monthly cycle and what is normal for you, as otherwise you may not be able to spot the signs of this disease. There are other symptoms which are less common but consist of discharge, pain or swelling in the lower abdomen, pain or discomfort during sex, weight loss, vomiting or feeling sick, fatigue and passing urine more than usual. However, it’s important to remember that these symptoms may be caused by problems other than womb cancer – speak to your GP if you’re concerned and they can advise you if you need to be tested. Some women also get lumps in the inner lining of the womb, which are referred to as endometrial polyps. These are generally benign, but some of them do contain cancer cells – this, again, should be referred to your GP for further information.
The reasons why some women develop womb cancer are unclear, but it’s thought that women who have too much oestrogen in their body, in relation to progesterone, could be more at risk. There are other factors which have been associated with developing womb cancer, such as PCOS, endometrial hyperplasia (which is a condition where the lining of your womb becomes thicker), being overweight or obese, being over the age of 50 and having a family history of the condition. The uterine sarcoma form of womb cancer is more common in African-Caribbean women, as well as those who have previously had radiotherapy in the pelvic area. There are a number of treatments for this disease, including surgery, which is the most common form of treatment – this is most commonly a hysterectomy. As with other forms of cancer, there are non-surgical treatments as well, such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Being diagnosed with cancer is extremely devastating and can be difficult for you to cope with, as well as hard for your family. There are numerous support options to help you through this difficult stage, from local support groups to specialist nurses who are trained to help you deal with the effects of cancer. In more advanced stages of the disease, hospices and palliative care can be provided to help you and your family cope.