Uterine cancer, also known as womb cancer, is any type of cancer that emerges from the tissue of the uterus. It can refer to several types of cancer, with cervical cancer (arising from the lower portion of the uterus) being the most common type worldwide and the second most common cancer in women in developing countries. Endometrial cancer (or cancer of the inner lining of the uterus) is the second most common type, and fourth most common cancer in women from developed countries.
Risk factors depend on specific type, but obesity, older age, and human papillomavirus infection add the greatest risk of developing uterine cancer. Early on, there may be no symptoms, but irregular vaginal bleeding, pelvic pain or fullness may develop. If caught early, most types of uterine cancer can be cured using surgical or medical methods. When the cancer has extended beyond the uterine tissue, more advanced treatments including combinations of chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or surgery may be required.
It is not known with certainty what the causes for uterine cancer may be, though hormone imbalance is speculated as a risk factor. Estrogen receptors, known to be present on the surfaces of the cells of this type of cancer, are thought to interact with the hormone causing increased cell growth, which can then result in cancer. The exact mechanism of how this occurs is not understood.
- Endometrial carcinomas originate from cells in the glands of the endometrium (uterine lining). These include the common and readily treatable well-differentiated endometrioid adenocarcinoma, as well as the more aggressive uterine papillary serous carcinoma and uterine clear-cell carcinoma.
- Endometrial stromal sarcomas originate from the connective tissues of the endometrium, and are far less common than endometrial carcinomas.
- Malignant mixed Müllerian tumors are rare endometrial tumors which show both glandular (carcinomatous) and stromal (sarcomatous) differentiation – carcinosarcoma behaves similar to a high grade carcinoma, and it is felt to be of epithelial origin rather than true sarcoma.
- Cervical cancer arises from the transformation zone of the cervix, the lower portion of the uterus and connects to the upper aspect of the vagina.
- Uterine sarcomas: sarcomas of the myometrium, or muscular layer of the uterus, are most commonly leiomyosarcomas.
- Gestational trophoblastic disease relates to neoplastic processes originating from tissue of a pregnancy that often is located in the uterus.
Uterine cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women in the UK (around 8,500 women were diagnosed with the disease in 2011), and it is the tenth most common cause of cancer death in women (around 2,000 people died in 2012).
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