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Diagnosis and Treatment of Metastatic Endometrial Cancer

written by: BStone • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 10/15/2010

How is metastatic endometrial cancer diagnosed? What forms of treatment are used and are they successful with this more advanced form of uterine cancer?

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    Endometrial Cancer

    flowers Endometrial cancer is the growth of cancerous cells in the uterus. As long as the tumor has not spread, or metastasized, the prognosis is very good for women who have this disease. With metastatic endometrial cancer the growth has spread beyond the uterus, first entering the blood stream, traveling to the lymph nodes, and eventually spreading to other organs.

    If uterine cancer cells have had the chance to metastasize, the prognosis is not very good. Women who are at a high risk for metastatic uterine cancer may be checked for the presence of cancer cells elsewhere in the body.

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    Diagnosis

    If a woman experiences symptoms of uterine cancer, such as unusual vaginal bleeding or discharge and pain in the pelvic area, her doctor will perform a series of tests to check for cancer. Blood and urine tests, a pelvic exam, a biopsy, pap smear, and ultrasound may all be used to diagnose the cancer.

    Then, it is essential to determine if it is only uterine cancer or metastatic uterine cancer. To diagnose this more advanced form of endometrial cancer a doctor will perform more tests, basically to search for the presence of cancer cells in the lymph nodes and other organs such as the lungs, colon, or bladder. A chest X-ray, CAT scan, MRI, colonoscopy, and more ultrasounds may all be used.

    Another method that is used for diagnosis is to remove the uterus, thereby removing the primary source of the cancer. This serves as a treatment method for endometrial cancer, but it also allows the surgeon to take a look at the extent of the cancer. They can examine the uterus, looking for signs that the cancer may have spread. They can also check for signs of cancer in the lymph nodes and nearby organs.

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    Treatment

    If metastatic endometrial cancer is diagnosed, how is it treated? While radiation and surgery can be used to treat cancer that is confined to the uterus, other options are required to treat the spread of cancerous cells. Hormone therapy is often used for treatment. It can impact cancer cells throughout the body, addressing cells that may be in the lymph nodes, lungs, bladder, or other organs. What does hormone therapy involve? In most cases, it involves taking a type of the female hormone progesterone in pill form. Side effects include water retention, an increased appetite, and weight gain.

    Cytotoxic chemotherapy is another form of treatment. Anticancer drugs such as platinum compounds and anthracyclines are taken in pill form or through injections. They kill cancer cells not only in the uterus but wherever they are present in the body. This treatment is only used when it has to because of the harm the drugs can do to the body. Also, the benefits are modest.

    This advanced form of endometrial cancer does not respond well to treatment as the median survival rate from diagnosis is twelve months. Hormone therapy and chemotherapy drugs do offer some hope, at least to slow the progression of the disease. Talk to your doctor about all questions and concerns you may have, including a detailed explanation of side effects of treatment options so you can make an informed decision and the possibility of any new breakthroughs in the fight against this disease.

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    References

    Cancer Compass <http://www.cancercompass.com/endometrial-cancer-information/treatment.htm>

    Medicine Net <http://www.medicinenet.com/uterine_cancer/page6.htm>

    Abstract of Oncology <http://annonc.oxfordjournals.org/content/18/3/409.abstract>

    Medscape <http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/586334_3>

    photo by Amanda (CC/flickr) <http://www.flickr.com/photos/spakattacks/1501710699/sizes/m/in/photostream/>