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Seven common myths about endometrial cancer

Here is a fact check of the seven most common myths people have about endometrial cancer.

Myth 1: Uterine and endometrial cancer are the same thing.

Sometimes, the terms “uterine” or “endometrial” cancer are used interchangeably. Recently in my blog, I described the difference between uterine and endometrial cancer. Cancer that starts in the uterus is called uterine cancer.

Endometrial cancer is a subtype of uterine cancer, which develops from the inner lining of the uterus (endometrium).

Myth 2: A hysterectomy is always needed if you have been diagnosed with uterine cancer.

The standard treatment for endometrial cancer is a hysterectomy which is a surgical procedure to remove the uterus and always results in infertility. However, if a patient has early-stage 1 endometrial cancer and wants to preserve fertility, a hysterectomy may not be required and patients may prefer a conservative treatment approach.

The most common conservative treatment is through an intrauterine device (IUD) that slowly and steadily releases a progestin called levonorgestrel. Other hormonal treatments include hormone tablets or GnRH therapy to decrease production of the hormone estrogen. These hormone treatments may also be combined with conservative surgical approaches such as hysteroscopic resection.

I discuss more details about these conservative treatment options here.

Myth 3: If I have a positive attitude during treatment, that will improve my recovery from cancer.

Cancer patients may feel pressured that they should fight the cancer with positive thoughts. It is important to note that negative thoughts are normal and cancer can be a stressful and difficult at times.

There is no evidence that shows emotions can cause cancer, help it grow or keep it at bay.

Evidence suggests that cancer patients who are upbeat and positive and those who struggle sometimes with negative thoughts do equally well. However, negative thoughts can be burdensome and weigh you down, so it is recommended that you talk to someone about having such thoughts, especially if they bother you.

Myth 4: I am too young to be diagnosed with cancer.

Three women talking around a laptop

Endometrial cancer predominantly affects women after menopause, however it can also be diagnosed in young women too. Endometrial cancer in young women is more challenging to diagnose because abnormal bleeding is far more normal amongst young than older women.

Myth 5: I live a healthy lifestyle, so I am unlikely to be diagnosed with cancer.

We know that lifestyle factors such as obesity and smoking are linked to endometrial cancer, but there is no proven 'diet' that prevents cancer.

A healthy diet lowers your risk of being diagnosed with many cancers, but we do not know exactly which foods may fight or prevent cancer.  My advice is avoiding modifiable risk factors like obesity and smoking are always a good idea as they have many other, additional health benefits.

Myth 6: My PAP smear test (Cervical Screening Test (CST)) has always been normal, therefore I cannot have endometrial cancer.

This is incorrect. The Cervical Cancer Screening test collects cells from the cervix, which is located at the lower end of the uterus, towards the vagina.

By contrast, endometrial cancer develops within the endometrial cavity, which is connected to the cervix, but is located higher up towards the body of the uterus. While a CST may occasionally pick up endometrial cancer, the majority of patients with endometrial cancer will have a normal CST.

Myth 7: The oral contraceptive pill can increase your risk of getting endometrial cancer.

This is incorrect and studies report it is actually the opposite.

Evidence shows that the use of combined oral contraceptives (containing oestrogens and progesterones) increases the risk of some cancers and lowers the risk of others.

Oral contraceptives have been shown to reduce the risk of endometrial and ovarian cancer, and this can last for decades after stopping use.

Women who take oral contraceptives have a slight increase in breast cancer and cervical cancer risk.  This risk will decline when you stop taking the oral contraceptives, and approximately 10 years after stopping, your risk will return to the same risk as that of women who have never taken oral contraceptives.

If you wish to receive regular information, resources, reassurance and inspiration for up-to-date care that is sound and in line with the latest research, please subscribe to my blog via the form above, or like Dr Andreas Obermair on Facebook.

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