Uterine (endometrial) cancer is the most common cancer of the female reproductive system, with more than 49,500 Americans diagnosed with the disease each year. It tends to develop after menopause, when a woman is between the ages of 50 and 60.
The uterus is a hollow, pear-shaped organ in a woman’s pelvis in which a fetus grows after conception. Most cancers begin in the lining of the uterus, which is called the endometrium. Rarer forms develop within the actual muscle of the uterine wall; this is called uterine sarcoma and is managed differently.
Types of Uterine Cancer
There are many different types of uterine cancer. Each type varies in the way it behaves and how it should be managed. For this reason, we often ask our specialists in pathology to review findings.
- Endometrioid adenocarcinoma: This type of uterine cancer forms in the glandular cells of the uterine lining. It accounts for as much as 75 percent of all uterine cancers. Endometrioid adenocarcinoma is commonly detected early and has a high cure rate.
- Clear cell adenocarcinoma: About 5 percent of uterine cancers are of this type, which is primarily diagnosed in women who were exposed in utero to an estrogen drug known as diethylstilbestrol (DES). From 1938 to 1971, DES was prescribed to some pregnant women to prevent miscarriage. The female children of women exposed to DES have an increased risk of rare types of uterine, cervical, and vaginal cancers. This form of adenocarcinoma tends to recur (come back after treatment) or metastasize (spread) to other areas of the body.
- Serous adenocarcinoma: These tumors are more likely to spread to lymph nodes and other parts of the body. About 10 percent of uterine cancers diagnosed are of this type.
- Adenosquamous carcinoma: This rare form of uterine cancer has elements of both adenocarcinoma and carcinoma of the squamous cells that line the outer surface of the uterus.
- Carcinomasarcoma: This rare form of uterine cancer was previously thought to be a type of uterine sarcoma. However, it is now felt to be a uterine (endometrial) cancer. It has elements of both adenocarcinoma and sarcoma. These tumors have a high risk of spreading to the lymph nodes and other parts of the body.
Every year, more than 1,300 women with some form of gynecologic cancer come to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center for treatment, including nearly 300 women with uterine cancer. We tailor our comprehensive care to each woman’s specific needs.
We take a multidisciplinary team approach to diagnosing and treating uterine cancer, and our results with surgery for women with advanced-stage or recurrent disease are among the best in the world. Many women choose minimally invasive operations that enable them to go home the same or the following day and offer such benefits as decreased pain and relatively fast recovery.
Our innovative approach to identifying and removing only the necessary lymph nodes during surgery is an option that many women with early-stage uterine cancer select. For women whose cancers are more advanced and require additional treatments following surgery, our medical oncologists are investigating chemotherapy regimens using novel drugs and drug combinations available through our clinical trials.
Our Fertility Preservation experts can often guide women to options that help preserve fertility before undergoing treatment.