HealthSheets™


What Is Endometrial Cancer?

Cancer starts when cells in the body change (mutate) and start growing out of control. Cancer cells can form lumps of tissue called tumors. Cancer that starts in the lining of the uterus is called endometrial cancer.

Front view cross section of uterus and vagina showing endometrium lining inside of uterus.

Understanding the uterus and endometrium

The uterus is part of the female reproductive system. It's the organ that holds the baby when a woman is pregnant. The endometrium is the inside lining of the uterus. Each month, from puberty to menopause, the lining grows and thickens to prepare for pregnancy. This thickened lining helps to nourish a growing baby. If a woman doesn’t become pregnant, the lining of the uterus is shed. This is her period. Endometrial cancer starts in the cells of this lining.

When endometrial cancer forms

The endometrium is the most common place in the uterus for cancer to start. It's the most common type of gynecologic cancer (cancer in the female reproductive system). Endometrial cancer can spread into the other parts of the uterus. Cancer cells may also spread to nearby organs and other parts of the body. When cancer spreads, it's called metastasis. In general, the more cancer spreads, the harder it is to treat.

Endometrial cancer often causes abnormal vaginal bleeding. This may cause a woman to seek medical care. In these cases, endometrial cancer might be found when it's small and has not spread (metastasized). This is when the cancer is easiest to treat and cure. 

Treatment options for cancer of the uterus

You and your healthcare provider will talk about your treatment options. These may include:

  • Surgery to remove the uterus (hysterectomy). Sometimes the fallopian tubes, ovaries, or nearby lymph nodes are also taken out.

  • Radiation therapy. This treatment uses focused beams of high energy to kill cancer cells.

  • Chemotherapy. This treatment uses strong medicines to kill cancer cells.

  • Hormone therapy. This treatment affects hormone levels and may help slow the growth of cancer cells. It may be used in some cases to avoid hysterectomy and allow a woman to get pregnant in the future.

  • Targeted therapy. This treatment uses medicines that target certain changes in the cancer cells.

  • Immunotherapy. This treatment uses medicines that help your body's own immune system better fight cancer.  

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