Womb (uterus) cancer

Cancer of the womb (uterus) is a common cancer that affects the female reproductive system. Abnormal vaginal bleeding is the most common symptom. See your GP as soon as possible if you experience this symptom. While it's unlikely to be caused by womb cancer, it's best to be sure.

Symptoms of womb cancer

The most common symptom of womb cancer is abnormal bleeding from the vagina. Although most people with abnormal bleeding don't have cancer.

Bleeding may start as light bleeding accompanied by a watery discharge. This may get heavier over time. Most women diagnosed with womb cancer have been through the menopause, so any vaginal bleeding will be unusual.

In women who haven't been through the menopause, unusual vaginal bleeding may consist of:

Less common symptoms include pain in the lower abdomen (tummy) and pain during sex.

If womb cancer reaches a more advanced stage, it may cause additional symptoms. These include:

  • pain in the back, legs, or pelvis
  • loss of appetite
  • tiredness
  • nausea

When to seek medical advice

You should visit your GP if you have postmenopausal vaginal bleeding, or notice a change in the normal pattern of your period.

Only 1 in 10 cases of unusual vaginal bleeding after the menopause are caused by womb cancer, so it's unlikely your symptoms will be caused by this condition.

If you have unusual vaginal bleeding, it's important to get the cause of your symptoms investigated. The bleeding may be the result of a number of other potentially serious health conditions, such as:

  • endometriosis – where tissue that behaves like the lining of the womb is found on the outside of the womb
  • fibroids – non-cancerous growths that can develop inside the uterus
  • polyps in the womb lining

Other types of gynaecological cancer can also cause unusual vaginal bleeding, particularly cervical cancer.

Causes of womb cancer

It's not clear exactly what causes womb cancer. But certain things can increase your risk of developing the condition.

A hormone imbalance is one of the most important risks for womb cancer. Specifically, your risk is increased if you have high levels of a hormone called oestrogen in your body.

A number of things can cause this hormone imbalance, including obesity, diabetes, and hormone replacement therapy (HRT).

There is also a small increase in the risk of womb cancer with long-term use of the breast cancer drug tamoxifen.

It's not always possible to prevent womb cancer, but some things are thought to reduce your risk. This includes maintaining a healthy weight and the long-term use of some types of contraception.

Types of womb cancer

The majority of womb cancers begin in the cells that make up the lining of the womb (called the endometrium). This is why cancer of the womb is often called endometrial cancer.

This page uses the term womb cancer, and mostly includes information about endometrial cancer.

Womb cancer is separate from other cancers of the female reproductive system, such as ovarian cancer and cervical cancer.

Treating womb cancer

The most common treatment for womb cancer is the surgical removal of the womb (hysterectomy). The health professional looking after your care will discuss treatment options with you.

A hysterectomy can cure womb cancer in its early stages, but you will no longer be able to get pregnant. Surgery for womb cancer is also likely to include the removal of the ovaries and fallopian tubes.

Radiotherapy or chemotherapy are also sometimes used, often along with surgical treatment.

Living with womb cancer

Living with cancer is challenging and womb cancer can affect your life in specific ways.

For example, your sex life may be affected if you have a hysterectomy. You may find it physically more difficult to have sex and have a reduced sex drive.

You may find it helpful to talk to other people about your condition, including family members, your partner, or other people with womb cancer, (see ‘more useful links’ below).

Who is affected

Womb cancer is the most commonly occurring cancer of the female reproductive system. It's the fifth most common cancer diagnosed in women after, non-melanoma skin cancer, breast cancer, lung cancer, and cancer of the colon and rectum.

Womb cancer is more common in women who have been through the menopause.

Womb cancer risk is strongly related to age with 100 per cent of women diagnosed in Northern Ireland being over the age of 30 years at the time of diagnosis.

It is most common in women aged 70-74. The rate decreases in older women.

Womb cancer accounts for about 3 per cent of all cancers diagnosed in women.

The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.

For further information see terms and conditions.

This page was published April 2018

This page is due for review April 2019

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