Is endometrial cancer the same as uterine cancer?
Endometrial cancer and uterine cancer are often terms used interchangeably, but do they mean the same thing?
Uterine cancer refers to any cancer that starts in the uterus. The uterus has two main layers. The endometrium is the inner layer or lining and the myometrium is the layer of muscle tissue in the uterus that surrounds the endometrium.
Cancer Council Queensland reports each year approximately 450 women are diagnosed with uterine cancer in Queensland, and most cases are in women 50 years and over.
There are two types of uterine cancers, which are named after where they develop within the uterus.
1. Endometrial Cancer
Because endometrial cancer is part of the uterus (and the most common type) it is often also referred to as uterine cancer. Therefore, endometrial and uterine cancer are referring to the same disease. Endometrial cancer accounts for about 85% of all cases of cancer in the uterus.
There are two types of endometrial cancers:
- Type 1 cancers which are the most common type and linked to an excess of oestrogen. They are usually of endometroid cell type (=make).
- Type 2 cancers are less common, and the causes are unknown. Type 2 includes serous and clear cell types, sarcomas and other rather aggressive types of endometrial cancer. These cancers grow faster than type 1 cancers and are more likely to spread.
Endometrial cancer is the most diagnosed gynaecological cancer in Australia, with cases growing each year. This may be due to the link between obesity and endometrial cancer, which is a significant risk factor for developing this cancer.
2. Uterine Sarcomas
Cancer can also develop in the myometrium (muscle) layer of the uterus or other tissues that support the uterus, and are called uterine sarcomas.
This type is rare, accounting for about 5% of all uterine cancer cases, but is also the most aggressive form of uterine cancer.
There are three types of uterine sarcomas:
- Endometrial stromal sarcoma is a low-grade, slow-growing tumour.
- Leiomyosarcoma is a faster growing type of sarcoma and more likely to spread.
- Undifferentiated sarcoma is also a faster growing type and may be more likely to spread.
3. Uterine Carcinosarcomas
Finally, cancer can develop in both the endometrium and in the myometrium at the same time. Uterine carcinosarcomas are aggressive types of uterine cancer and make slightly less than 10% of all uterine cancers.
Uterine Cancer Symptoms
The main symptom of uterine cancer is postmenopausal bleeding or spotting. Other less common symptoms may include a smelly, watery vaginal discharge, abdominal pain, unexplained weight loss, difficulty urinating or a change in bowel habit. Read more about the symptoms of uterine cancer here.
Diagnosing uterine cancer involves examination of the endometrial lining of the uterus (hysteroscopy) and tissue sampling (biopsy). The tissue sample will confirm if cells are cancerous, and the type of uterine cancer. The earlier cancer of the uterus is diagnosed, the better the outcome.
Sarcomas (cancer arising from the muscle layer of the uterus) are notoriously difficult to diagnose and many of these tumours become only evident during or after a hysterectomy.
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