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February 2010 Issue

The female reproductive system.
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Many Women Overlook Uterine Cancer Symptoms

By Amanda Harper
Published February 2010

One of the most common cancers affecting women in the United States has a precancerous state and obvious warning signs, yet almost 8,000 women die from the disease annually.

That form of cancer—endometrial, also known as uterine cancer—occurs in the inner lining of the uterus and gives a clear warning sign: irregular vaginal bleeding. The challenge, says W. Edward Richards, MD, is that symptoms often occur in women on the verge of menopause, leading many to mistakenly attribute the irregular bleeding to natural physiological changes.

“If you look at all the cancers women are diagnosed with—breast, lung, liver, everything—endometrial cancer represents 6 percent of cases diagnosed and it’s the most common cancer of the reproductive tract,” says Richards, a gynecologic oncologist with UC Health University of Cincinnati Physicians and director of women’s cancer at the UC Barrett Cancer Institute at University Hospital.

“Endometrial cancers occur most often in women older than 50 and, unfortunately, many women put off seeing a doctor because they think they are going through ‘the change,’” he adds.

Richards stresses that any irregular bleeding should be addressed by a physician regardless of the patient’s age.

Women who are in the premenopausal age range—particularly those with risk factors such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension or excessive estrogen usage without the use of progesterone (“unopposed estrogen usage”)—are considered high risk for uterine cancer. In addition, women with polycystic ovary syndrome and those over age 50 who have never been pregnant are also high risk.

“The good news is that surgery is often curative when endometrial cancer is caught early,” says Richards. “Routine pap tests rarely detect endometrial cancer, so it’s extremely important that unexplained bleeding—no matter what a woman’s age or life circumstances—be checked out.”

For appointments with a UC Health gynecologic oncologist, call (513) 584-6373. 

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