The most common form of womb cancer is endometrial cancer, which affectsin the lining of the womb.
Despite its prevalence, a spokesperson for gynaecological cancer charity The Eve Appeal said endometrial cancer is not particularly well-known among women.
They told HuffPost UK that many people see the womb in its entirety - rather than realising it is made up of different parts.
Also some medical professionals refer to endometrial cancer simply as “womb cancer” or “uterine cancer” (the medical name for the womb), which may increase confusion around the illness.
So with endometriosis gaining more media coverage, here’s what you need to know about endometrial cancer and whether or not the two are linked.
What is endometrial cancer?
Endometrial cancer is cancer that starts in the tissue lining in the inner cavity of the womb (the endometrium).
According to Cancer Research UK, about 95% of endometrial cancers are adenocarcinomas.
“Adeno means that the cells that have become cancerous are the cells of glandular tissue,” the site explains.
“So for the most common type of womb cancer, the cancer is in the glands of the endometrium.
“Carcinoma means that the cancer has started in a surface or lining layer of cells (the epithelium).”
What are the symptoms of endometrial cancer?
According to Emma Shields, Cancer Research UK’s health information officer, the most common symptom of any type of womb cancer is abnormal bleeding from the vagina, especially in post-menopausal women.
“If women notice any unusual or lasting changes to their body, they should speak to their doctor,” she told HuffPost UK.
“They probably won’t have cancer, but it’s always best to get checked out.”
What causes endometrial cancer?
According to gynaecological cancer charity The Eve Appeal, most cases of womb cancer are linked to an excess of the oestrogen hormone.
This can be influenced by many factors including lifestyle, with women who are overweight tending to have higher oestrogen levels than others.
“In some cases there are links to an inherited genetic condition called Lynch Syndrome, which increases the risk of ovarian, endometrial and colon cancers,” a spokesperson told HuffPost UK.
As with most cancers, the risk of endometrial cancer increases with age and most women diagnosed are over the age of 65.
Shields added: “You can’t do anything about your age, but there are things you can do to cut the risk.
“Obesity raises the risk of womb cancer by about two to three times, so keeping a healthy weight by eating healthily and staying physically active is the best way you can reduce the risk.
“Whether it’s taking the stairs or switching to sugar-free drinks, small changes you can stick with can make a big difference.
“A healthy lifestyle isn’t a guarantee against cancer, but it can help stack the odds in your favour.”
Is endometriosis linked to endometrial cancer?
Endometriosis is a common condition where tissue that behaves like the lining within the womb is found outside of the womb.
Awareness of the condition has increased thanks to celebrities such as Lena Dunham sharing their experiences, but in turn, some may be concerned about its possible link to cancer.
However, the study authors noted that more research is needed into this topic.
The Eve Appeal told HuffPost UK current thinking is that being diagnosed with endometriosis does not increase your risk of endometrial cancer.
“If a woman has endometriosis, it means that cells like the ones she has in her womb have been found elsewhere in her body,” the spokesperson explained.
“Endometriosis is often confused with a condition called endometrial hyperplasia.
“Endometrial hyperplasia means that there are an increased number of endometrial glands, causing an abnormal thickening of the womb lining. This can give a higher risk of womb cancer.”
How is endometrial cancer diagnosed and treated?
According to The Eve Appeal, if you’re experiencing abnormal vaginal bleeding, your GP will usually complete a physical examination of your pelvic area, including your vagina, womb, ovaries and bladder.
They may then refer you for testing, which can include a transvaginal ultrasound (TVU).
“TVU is a type of ultrasound scan that uses a small scanner. Placed directly into the vagina to obtain a detailed picture of the inside of the uterus, the probe can feel a little uncomfortable for those yet to have sex or women with vaginismus, but shouldn’t be painful,” the site explains.
“The TVU checks whether there are any changes to the thickness of the lining of your uterus that could be caused by the presence of cancerous cells.”
You may also be given a biopsy, where a sample of cells from the inside of the womb (the endometrium) are taken and analysed in a laboratory.
Caroline Geraghty, Cancer Research UK’s senior information nurse, said “treatment for womb cancer usually depends on the type of cancer and its stage”.
She added: “Most women have surgery to remove the cancer and some will need to have chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy as well.”
The Eve Appeal spokesperson said there is “generally very good prognosis” if endometrial cancer is caught early.
“Other womb cancers like serous papillary and clear-cell are harder to treat and when caught at a later stage, there is a higher chance that these cancers will have spread outside of womb,” they added.
According to Cancer Research UK, more than 75% of women with any womb cancer will survive for 10 years or more after diagnosis.