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Uterine cancer is a malignancy involving the cells that line the uterus. This type of cancer can be deadly, but if the symptoms of uterine cancer are recognized early, and the cancer is adequately treated, the survival rate is good. Unfortunately, there's not an effective screening test for uterine cancer since the PAP test used for cervical cancer screening won’t detect cancer of the uterus. That’s why it’s important for all women to know and understand the symptoms of cancer of the uterus – and see their gynecologist regularly for a check-up.
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Signs and Symptoms of Uterine Cancer
One of the common symptoms of uterine cancer is abnormal bleeding from the vaginal tract. Women with uterine cancer may pass small amounts of blood or have more significant amounts of bleeding. They can also have a bloody discharge mixed with mucus as their first symptom. Women who have even small amounts of bleeding after menopause should be evaluated by a doctor to rule out uterine cancer.
Other early symptoms include pain with intercourse and discomfort when urinating. Women who are premenopausal and have spotting between periods or who have unusually long or heavy menstrual periods need to see their doctor too. Cancer of the uterus is less common in younger women, but it does occur.
As cancer of the uterus progresses, the uterus enlarges and a woman may have a feeling of heaviness in her pelvis or abdominal pain along with cramping. The abdominal discomfort may be dull and steady or crampy in nature. The uterus can enlarge so much that it becomes difficult or painful to urinate.
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Later Symptoms of Cancer of the Uterus
During the later stages of cancer of the uterus as the cancer spreads to other pelvic organs such as the ovaries or into the pelvic cavity, a woman can have abdominal distension from fluid accumulation in the pelvis, a condition known as ascites. The enlarged uterus can also compress on the intestines and lead to an intestinal obstruction. These symptoms generally occur late in the disease and are not usually early symptoms. Bleeding from the uterus can become so pronounced that it causes a low red blood cell count or anemia. Weight loss occurs in the more advanced stages of uterine cancer. Hopefully, the cancer will be diagnosed long before the cancer progresses this far.
Uterine cancer symptoms can involve other organs as the malignancy spreads out of the pelvic cavity through the lymphatic system to other areas of the body such as the liver, bones, lungs or brain. The symptoms will depend on which organs it spreads to.
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The Bottom Line
The symptoms of uterine cancer are well described. The key is to understand and recognize them – and take action by seeing a doctor if they occur. It could be lifesaving.
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Professional Guide to Diseases. Ninth edition. Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins. 2009.
The Journal of Family Practice. October 2002. Vol. 14, No. 10.