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Endometrial Cancer Treatment (PDQ®)
- General Information About Endometrial Cancer
- Stages of Endometrial Cancer
- Recurrent Endometrial Cancer
- Treatment Option Overview
- Treatment Options by Stage
- Treatment Options for Recurrent Endometrial Cancer
- To Learn More About Endometrial Cancer
- Changes to This Summary (04/12/2013)
- Get More Information From NCI
- About PDQ
General Information About Endometrial Cancer
Endometrial cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the endometrium.
The endometrium is the lining of the uterus, a hollow, muscular organ in a woman’s pelvis. The uterus is where a fetus grows. In most nonpregnant women, the uterus is about 3 inches long. The lower, narrow end of the uterus is the cervix, which leads to the vagina.
Taking tamoxifen for breast cancer or taking estrogen alone (without progesterone) can affect the risk of endometrial cancer.
Endometrial cancer may develop in breast cancer patients who have been treated with tamoxifen. A patient taking this drug should have a pelvic exam every year and report any vaginal bleeding (other than menstrual bleeding) as soon as possible. Women taking estrogen (a hormone that can affect the growth of some cancers) alone have an increased risk of endometrial cancer. Taking estrogen combined with progesterone (another hormone) does not increase a woman’s risk of this cancer.
Possible signs of endometrial cancer include unusual vaginal discharge or pain in the pelvis.
- Bleeding or discharge not related to menstruation (periods).
- Difficult or painful urination.
- Pain during sexual intercourse.
- Pain in the pelvic area.
Tests that examine the endometrium are used to detect (find) and diagnose endometrial cancer.
Because endometrial cancer begins inside the uterus, it does not usually show up in the results of a Pap test. For this reason, a sample of endometrial tissue must be removed and checked under a microscope to look for cancer cells. One of the following procedures may be used:
- Endometrial biopsy: The removal of tissue from the endometrium (inner lining of the uterus) by inserting a thin, flexible tube through the cervix and into the uterus. The tube is used to gently scrape a small amount of tissue from the endometrium and then remove the tissue samples. A pathologist views the tissue under a microscope to look for cancer cells.
- Dilatation and curettage: A procedure to remove samples of tissue from the inner lining of the uterus. The cervix is dilated and a curette (spoon-shaped instrument) is inserted into the uterus to remove tissue. The tissue samples are checked under a microscope for signs of disease. This procedure is also called a D&C.
Other tests and procedures used to diagnose endometrial cancer include the following:
- Physical exam and history: An exam of the body to check general signs of health, including checking for signs of disease, such as lumps or anything else that seems unusual. A history of the patient’s health habits and past illnesses and treatments will also be taken.
- Transvaginal ultrasound exam: A procedure used to examine the vagina, uterus, fallopian tubes, and bladder. An ultrasound transducer (probe) is inserted into the vagina and used to bounce high-energy sound waves (ultrasound) off internal tissues or organs and make echoes. The echoes form a picture of body tissues called a sonogram. The doctor can identify tumors by looking at the sonogram.
- CT scan (CAT scan): A procedure that makes a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body, taken from different angles. The pictures are made by a computer linked to an x-ray machine. A dye may be injected into a vein or swallowed to help the organs or tissues show up more clearly. This procedure is also called computed tomography, computerized tomography, or computerized axial tomography.
Certain factors affect prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options.
- The stage of the cancer (whether it is in the endometrium only, involves the whole uterus, or has spread to other places in the body).
- How the cancer cells look under a microscope.
- Whether the cancer cells are affected by progesterone.
Endometrial cancer is highly curable.
Stages of Endometrial Cancer
After endometrial cancer has been diagnosed, tests are done to find out if cancer cells have spread within the uterus or to other parts of the body.
The process used to find out whether the cancer has spread within the uterus or to other parts of the body is called staging. The information gathered from the staging process determines the stage of the disease. It is important to know the stage in order to plan treatment. Certain tests and procedures are used in the staging process. A hysterectomy (an operation in which the uterus is removed) will usually be done to help find out how far the cancer has spread.
The following procedures may be used in the staging process:
- Pelvic exam: An exam of the vagina, cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries, and rectum. The doctor or nurse inserts one or two lubricated, gloved fingers of one hand into the vagina and the other hand is placed over the lower abdomen to feel the size, shape, and position of the uterus and ovaries. A speculum is also inserted into the vagina and the doctor or nurse looks at the vagina and cervix for signs of disease. A Pap test or Pap smear of the cervix is usually done. The doctor or nurse also inserts a lubricated, gloved finger into the rectum to feel for lumps or abnormal areas.
- Chest x-ray: An x-ray of the organs and bones inside the chest. An x-ray is a type of energy beam that can go through the body and onto film, making a picture of areas inside the body.
- MRI (magnetic resonance imaging): A procedure that uses a magnet, radio waves, and a computer to make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body. This procedure is also called nuclear magnetic resonance imaging (NMRI).
- PET scan (positron emission tomography scan): A procedure to find malignant tumor cells in the body. A small amount of radioactive glucose (sugar) is injected into a vein. The PET scanner rotates around the body and makes a picture of where glucose is being used in the body. Malignant tumor cells show up brighter in the picture because they are more active and take up more glucose than normal cells do.
There are three ways that cancer spreads in the body.
The three ways that cancer spreads in the body are:
- Through tissue. Cancer invades the surrounding normal tissue.
- Through the lymph system. Cancer invades the lymph system and travels through the lymph vessels to other places in the body.
- Through the blood. Cancer invades the veins and capillaries and travels through the blood to other places in the body.
When cancer cells break away from the primary (original) tumor and travel through the lymph or blood to other places in the body, another (secondary) tumor may form. This process is called metastasis. The secondary (metastatic) tumor is the same type of cancer as the primary tumor. For example, if breast cancer spreads to the bones, the cancer cells in the bones are actually breast cancer cells. The disease is metastatic breast cancer, not bone cancer.
The following stages are used for endometrial cancer:
- Stage IA: Cancer is in the endometrium only or less than halfway through the myometrium (muscle layer of the uterus).
- Stage IB: Cancer has spread halfway or more into the myometrium.
In stage III, cancer has spread beyond the uterus and cervix, but has not spread beyond the pelvis. Stage III is divided into stages IIIA, IIIB, and IIIC, based on how far the cancer has spread within the pelvis.
- Stage IIIA: Cancer has spread to the outer layer of the uterus and/or to the fallopian tubes, ovaries, and ligaments of the uterus.
- Stage IIIB: Cancer has spread to the vagina or to the parametrium (connective tissue and fat around the uterus).
- Stage IIIC: Cancer has spread to lymph nodes in the pelvis and/or around the aorta (largest artery in the body, which carries blood away from the heart).
- Stage IVA: Cancer has spread to the bladder and/or bowel wall.
- Stage IVB: Cancer has spread to other parts of the body beyond the pelvis, including the abdomen and/or lymph nodes in the groin.
Recurrent Endometrial Cancer
Recurrent endometrial cancer is cancer that has recurred (come back) after it has been treated. The cancer may come back in the uterus, the pelvis, in lymph nodes in the abdomen, or in other parts of the body.
Treatment Option Overview
There are different types of treatment for patients with endometrial cancer.
Different types of treatment are available for patients with endometrial cancer. Some treatments are standard (the currently used treatment), and some are being tested in clinical trials. A treatment clinical trial is a research study meant to help improve current treatments or obtain information on new treatments for patients with cancer. When clinical trials show that a new treatment is better than the standard treatment, the new treatment may become the standard treatment. Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial. Some clinical trials are open only to patients who have not started treatment.
Three types of standard treatment are used:
Surgery (removing the cancer in an operation) is the most common treatment for endometrial cancer. The following surgical procedures may be used:
- Total hysterectomy: Surgery to remove the uterus, including the cervix. If the uterus and cervix are taken out through the vagina, the operation is called a vaginal hysterectomy. If the uterus and cervix are taken out through a large incision (cut) in the abdomen, the operation is called a total abdominal hysterectomy. If the uterus and cervix are taken out through a small incision (cut) in the abdomen using a laparoscope, the operation is called a total laparoscopic hysterectomy.
- Bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy: Surgery to remove both ovaries and both fallopian tubes.
- Radical hysterectomy: Surgery to remove the uterus, cervix, and part of the vagina. The ovaries, fallopian tubes, or nearby lymph nodes may also be removed.
Even if the doctor removes all the cancer that can be seen at the time of the surgery, some patients may be given radiation therapy or hormone treatment after surgery to kill any cancer cells that are left. Treatment given after the surgery, to lower the risk that the cancer will come back, is called adjuvant therapy.
Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. There are two types of radiation therapy. External radiation therapy uses a machine outside the body to send radiation toward the cancer. Internal radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters that are placed directly into or near the cancer. The way the radiation therapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.
Hormone therapy is a cancer treatment that removes hormones or blocks their action and stops cancer cells from growing. Hormones are substances made by glands in the body and circulated in the bloodstream. Some hormones can cause certain cancers to grow. If tests show that the cancer cells have places where hormones can attach (receptors), drugs, surgery, or radiation therapy is used to reduce the production of hormones or block them from working.
New types of treatment are being tested in clinical trials.
This summary section describes treatments that are being studied in clinical trials. It may not mention every new treatment being studied. Information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.
Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping the cells from dividing. When chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, the drugs enter the bloodstream and can reach cancer cells throughout the body (systemic chemotherapy). When chemotherapy is placed directly into the cerebrospinal fluid, an organ, or a body cavity such as the abdomen, the drugs mainly affect cancer cells in those areas (regional chemotherapy). The way the chemotherapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.
Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial.
For some patients, taking part in a clinical trial may be the best treatment choice. Clinical trials are part of the cancer research process. Clinical trials are done to find out if new cancer treatments are safe and effective or better than the standard treatment.
Many of today's standard treatments for cancer are based on earlier clinical trials. Patients who take part in a clinical trial may receive the standard treatment or be among the first to receive a new treatment.
Patients who take part in clinical trials also help improve the way cancer will be treated in the future. Even when clinical trials do not lead to effective new treatments, they often answer important questions and help move research forward.
Patients can enter clinical trials before, during, or after starting their cancer treatment.
Some clinical trials only include patients who have not yet received treatment. Other trials test treatments for patients whose cancer has not gotten better. There are also clinical trials that test new ways to stop cancer from recurring (coming back) or reduce the side effects of cancer treatment.
Clinical trials are taking place in many parts of the country. See the Treatment Options section that follows for links to current treatment clinical trials. These have been retrieved from NCI's listing of clinical trials.
Follow-up tests may be needed.
Some of the tests that were done to diagnose the cancer or to find out the stage of the cancer may be repeated. Some tests will be repeated in order to see how well the treatment is working. Decisions about whether to continue, change, or stop treatment may be based on the results of these tests. This is sometimes called re-staging.
Some of the tests will continue to be done from time to time after treatment has ended. The results of these tests can show if your condition has changed or if the cancer has recurred (come back). These tests are sometimes called follow-up tests or check-ups.
Treatment Options by Stage
A link to a list of current clinical trials is included for each treatment section. For some types or stages of cancer, there may not be any trials listed. Check with your doctor for clinical trials that are not listed here but may be right for you.
Stage I Endometrial Cancer
Treatment of stage I endometrial cancer may include the following:
- Surgery (total hysterectomy and bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy). Lymph nodes in the pelvis and abdomen may also be removed and viewed under a microscope to check for cancer cells.
- Surgery (total hysterectomy and bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy, with or without removal of lymph nodes in the pelvis and abdomen) followed by internal radiation therapy or external radiation therapy to the pelvis. After surgery, a plastic cylinder containing a source of radiation may be placed in the vagina to kill any remaining cancer cells.
- Radiation therapy alone for patients who cannot have surgery.
- Clinical trials of radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy.
Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with stage I endometrial carcinoma. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.
Stage II Endometrial Cancer
Treatment of stage II endometrial cancer is usually surgery (radical hysterectomy and bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy). Lymph nodes in the pelvis and abdomen may also be removed and viewed under a microscope to check for cancer cells. Radiation therapy may follow surgery.
Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with stage II endometrial carcinoma. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.
Stage III Endometrial Cancer
Treatment of stage III endometrial cancer may include the following:
- Surgery (radical hysterectomy and removal of lymph nodes in the pelvis so they can be viewed under a microscope to check for cancer cells) followed by internal radiation therapy and external radiation therapy.
- Radiation therapy alone for patients who cannot have surgery.
- Hormone therapy for patients who cannot have surgery or radiation therapy.
- Clinical trials of chemotherapy.
- Clinical trials of new therapies.
Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with stage III endometrial carcinoma. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.
Stage IV Endometrial Cancer
Treatment of stage IV endometrial cancer may include the following:
- Internal radiation therapy and external radiation therapy.
- Hormone therapy.
- Clinical trials of chemotherapy.
Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with stage IV endometrial carcinoma. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.
Treatment Options for Recurrent Endometrial Cancer
- Radiation therapy as palliative therapy to relieve symptoms and improve the patient’s quality of life.
- Hormone therapy.
- Clinical trials of chemotherapy.
Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with recurrent endometrial carcinoma. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.
To Learn More About Endometrial Cancer
For more information from the National Cancer Institute about endometrial cancer, see the following:
- Endometrial Cancer Home Page
- What You Need to Know About™ Cancer of the Uterus
- Endometrial Cancer Prevention
- Endometrial Cancer Screening
- Tamoxifen: Questions and Answers
For general cancer information and other resources from the National Cancer Institute, see the following:
- What You Need to Know About™ Cancer
- Understanding Cancer Series: Cancer
- Cancer Staging
- Chemotherapy and You: Support for People With Cancer
- Radiation Therapy and You: Support for People With Cancer
- Coping with Cancer: Supportive and Palliative Care
- Questions to Ask Your Doctor About Cancer
- Cancer Library
- Information For Survivors/Caregivers/Advocates
Changes to This Summary (04/12/2013)
Editorial changes were made to this summary.
Get More Information From NCI
For more information, U.S. residents may call the National Cancer Institute's (NCI's) Cancer Information Service toll-free at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237) Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., Eastern Time. A trained Cancer Information Specialist is available to answer your questions.
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PDQ is a comprehensive cancer database available on NCI's Web site.
PDQ is the National Cancer Institute's (NCI's) comprehensive cancer information database. Most of the information contained in PDQ is available online at NCI's Web site. PDQ is provided as a service of the NCI. The NCI is part of the National Institutes of Health, the federal government's focal point for biomedical research.
PDQ contains cancer information summaries.
The PDQ database contains summaries of the latest published information on cancer prevention, detection, genetics, treatment, supportive care, and complementary and alternative medicine. Most summaries are available in two versions. The health professional versions provide detailed information written in technical language. The patient versions are written in easy-to-understand, nontechnical language. Both versions provide current and accurate cancer information.
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The PDQ cancer information summaries are developed by cancer experts and reviewed regularly.
Editorial Boards made up of experts in oncology and related specialties are responsible for writing and maintaining the cancer information summaries. The summaries are reviewed regularly and changes are made as new information becomes available. The date on each summary ("Date Last Modified") indicates the time of the most recent change.
PDQ also contains information on clinical trials.
A clinical trial is a study to answer a scientific question, such as whether one treatment is better than another. Trials are based on past studies and what has been learned in the laboratory. Each trial answers certain scientific questions in order to find new and better ways to help cancer patients. During treatment clinical trials, information is collected about the effects of a new treatment and how well it works. If a clinical trial shows that a new treatment is better than one currently being used, the new treatment may become "standard." Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial. Some clinical trials are open only to patients who have not started treatment.
Listings of clinical trials are included in PDQ and are available online at NCI's Web site. Descriptions of the trials are available in health professional and patient versions. Many cancer doctors who take part in clinical trials are also listed in PDQ. For more information, call the Cancer Information Service 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237).
This information was last updated on 2013-04-12