Uterine Cancer (Endometrial Cancer)

Uterine cancer includes two types of cancer: endometrial cancer (more common) and uterine sarcoma (rare). Uterine cancer symptoms include bleeding between periods or after menopause. Treatment often consists of a hysterectomy to remove your uterus.


Endometrial cancer that’s formed in the bottom portion of the uterus
The most common form of uterine cancer forms in the lining, or endometrium.

What is uterine cancer?

Uterine cancer is a general term that describes cancer in your uterus:

  • Endometrial cancer develops in the endometrium, the inner lining of your uterus. It’s one of the most common gynecologic cancers — cancers affecting your reproductive system.
  • Uterine sarcoma develops in the myometrium, the muscle wall of your uterus. Uterine sarcomas are very rare.


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Are endometrial cancer and uterine cancer the same?

Uterine cancer can refer to either endometrial cancer or uterine sarcoma. But people often consider the terms “endometrial cancer” and “uterine cancer” the same. That’s because endometrial cancer makes up about 95% of all cases of uterine cancer. A diagnosis of uterine sarcoma is rare.

What does the uterus do?

The uterus is part of the reproductive system of women and people who are assigned female at birth (AFAB). It’s where a fetus develops during pregnancy.

The top part of your uterus is called the body or corpus. At the end of your uterus is your cervix, which connects your uterus to your vagina. Uterine cancer refers to cancer in the body of your uterus. Cancer in your cervix — cervical cancer — is a different type of cancer.

What does the endometrium do?

The endometrium is the inner layer of your uterus. It changes during your menstrual cycle.

Hormones called estrogen and progesterone cause the endometrium to thicken in case of pregnancy. If no pregnancy occurs, your body produces less progesterone which causes the endometrial lining to shed. That’s when periods take place.

How common is uterine cancer?

In the United States, endometrial cancer is the most common cancer affecting the reproductive system of women and people AFAB. Endometrial cancer mainly develops after menopause. About 3% of women and people AFAB will receive a diagnosis of uterine cancer at some point during their lives. Each year, about 65,000 people receive a diagnosis.


Symptoms and Causes

Risk factors for uterine cancer.

What are the symptoms of uterine cancer?

Signs of uterine cancer can resemble those of many conditions. That’s especially true of other conditions affecting reproductive organs. If you notice unusual pain or irregular vaginal bleeding, talk to your healthcare provider. An accurate diagnosis is important so you can get the proper treatment.

Symptoms of endometrial cancer or uterine sarcoma include:

  • Vaginal bleeding between periods before menopause.
  • Vaginal bleeding or spotting after menopause, even a slight amount.
  • Lower abdominal pain or cramping in your pelvis, just below your belly.
  • Thin white or clear vaginal discharge if you’re postmenopausal.
  • Extremely prolonged, heavy or frequent vaginal bleeding if you’re older than 40.

What causes uterine cancer?

Researchers aren’t sure of the exact cause of uterine cancer. Something happens to create changes in cells in your uterus. The mutated cells grow and multiply out of control, which can form a mass called a tumor.

Certain risk factors can increase the chances you’ll develop uterine cancer. If you’re at high risk, talk to your healthcare provider about steps you can take to protect your health.


What are risk factors for uterine cancer?

There are several risk factors for endometrial cancer. Many of them relate to the balance between estrogen and progesterone. These risk factors include having obesity, a condition called polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) or taking unopposed estrogen (taking estrogen without taking progesterone, too). The genetic disorder Lynch syndrome is another risk factor unrelated to hormones.

Risk factors include:

Age, lifestyle and family history

  • Age: As you get older, your likelihood of developing uterine cancer increases. Most uterine cancers occur after age 50.
  • Diet high in animal fat: A high-fat diet can increase your risk of several cancers, including uterine cancer. Fatty foods are also high in calories, which can lead to obesity.
  • Family history: Some people inherit genetic disorders that increase cancer risk. People with Lynch syndrome, or hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC), have increased risk of endometrial cancer, along with other kinds of cancer.

Other conditions

  • Diabetes: This disease is often related to obesity, a risk factor for cancer. But some studies suggest a more direct tie between diabetes and uterine cancer as well.
  • Obesity (having excess body weight): Some hormones get changed to estrogen by fat tissue, raising uterine cancer risk. The higher the amount of fat tissue, the greater the effect on estrogen levels.
  • Ovarian diseases: People who have certain ovarian tumors have high estrogen levels and low progesterone levels. These hormone changes can increase uterine cancer risk.

Menstrual and reproductive history

  • Early menstruation: If your period started before age 12, your risk for uterine cancer might increase. That’s because your uterus gets exposed to estrogen for more years.
  • Late menopause: Similarly, if menopause occurs after age 50, the risk also increases. Your uterus gets exposed to estrogen longer.
  • Long menstruation span: The number of years menstruating might be more important than your age when periods started or ended.
  • Not getting pregnant: People who haven’t been pregnant have a higher risk.

Previous treatments for other conditions

  • Earlier radiation therapy to your pelvis: Radiation therapy to the pelvis to treat other cancers can damage cell DNA. This damage may increase your risk of developing a second type of cancer.
  • Estrogen replacement therapy (ERT): Some people receive estrogen therapy to help relieve menopause symptoms. Getting ERT without progesterone places you at a higher risk for uterine cancer.
  • Use of tamoxifen: People may receive this drug for breast cancer treatment. It acts like estrogen in the uterus and can increase the risk of uterine cancer.

What are complications of endometrial cancer?

The most serious complication of endometrial cancer is death. However, when your healthcare provider diagnoses endometrial cancer at an early stage, the prognosis is usually very good.

Other complications of endometrial cancer include:

  • Anemia.
  • The cancer spreading to other parts of your body (metastasizing).
  • Your body doesn’t respond well to treatment.

Diagnosis and Tests

How is uterine cancer diagnosed?

Talk to your healthcare provider if you notice possible signs of uterine cancer. Your provider will:

What tests will I need to diagnose uterine cancer?

Your provider may perform one or more tests to confirm a diagnosis of uterine cancer:

Blood tests:

  • CA-125 assay measures CA-125, a protein. A certain amount of CA-125 can point to cancer in your body.

Imaging tests:

  • CT scans take a series of detailed pictures of the inside of your body.
  • MRI scans use radio waves and a powerful magnet to create images.
  • Transvaginal ultrasound inserts a special probe (smooth, rounded device) into your vagina to get pictures of your uterus.

Other tests:

  • Endometrial biopsy inserts a thin, flexible tube through your cervix (opening of your uterus) and into your uterus. Your provider removes a small amount of the endometrium.
  • Hysteroscopy inserts a hysteroscope, a long thin tube, through your vagina and cervix to reach your uterus. This narrow instrument with a light and camera provides detailed images of your uterus.
  • Dilation and curettage (D&C) is a more complex procedure to remove uterine tissue. It takes place in the operating room.

If you had a D&C or biopsy to remove tissue samples, your provider then sends the sample to a lab. There, a pathologist looks at the tissue to confirm if there’s cancer.

Can a Pap test diagnose uterine cancer?

No. The Pap test (Pap smear) doesn’t screen for or diagnose uterine cancer. It checks for cervical cancer.

What else does an endometrial cancer diagnosis show?

If your healthcare provider diagnoses endometrial cancer, they also need to determine the type. Knowing the cancer type helps your care team figure out the best treatment:

  • Type 1 endometrial cancers are less aggressive. They usually don’t spread to other tissues quickly.
  • Type 2 endometrial cancers are more aggressive. They’re more likely to spread outside of the uterus and need stronger treatment.

Your provider will also determine cancer stage. Uterine cancers are staged on a scale that ranges from I to IV.

  • Stage I cancer hasn’t spread beyond your uterus.
  • Stage II cancer has spread to your cervix.
  • Stage III cancer has spread to your vagina, ovaries and/or lymph nodes.
  • Stage IV cancer has spread to your bladder or other organs far away from your uterus.

In some cases, your provider may not be able to determine what stage of cancer you have until you’ve had surgery to remove it.

Management and Treatment

How is uterine cancer treated?

Most people with endometrial cancer need surgery. Your particular treatment plan depends on the type of cancer and your overall health. Other treatments you may have include:

  • Chemotherapy, which uses powerful drugs to destroy cancer cells.
  • Radiation therapy, which sends targeted radiation beams to destroy cancer cells.
  • Hormone therapy, which gives hormones or blocks them to treat cancer.
  • Immunotherapy, which helps your immune system fight cancer.
  • Targeted therapy, which uses medications to target specific cancer cells to stop them from multiplying.

Researchers continue to study more ways to treat endometrial cancer.

What type of uterine cancer surgery will I need?

Surgery is usually the primary treatment for endometrial cancer. You’ll most likely have a hysterectomy, with the surgeon removing your uterus and cervix. There are four types of hysterectomy procedures:

  • Total abdominal hysterectomy: The surgeon makes an incision (cut) in your abdomen to access and remove your uterus.
  • Vaginal hysterectomy: The surgeon removes your uterus through your vagina.
  • Radical hysterectomy: If cancer has spread to your cervix, you may need a radical hysterectomy. The surgeon removes your uterus and the tissues next to your uterus. The surgeon also removes the top part of your vagina, next to your cervix.
  • Minimally invasive hysterectomy: The surgeon makes multiple small incisions (cuts) to remove your uterus. This may be done laparoscopically or robotically.

During a hysterectomy, surgeons often perform two other procedures, as well:

Do I need to have my ovaries removed?

Many people who have uterine cancer need their ovaries removed. But removing the ovaries means you’ll go through menopause if you haven’t already. If you’re younger than 45 and premenopausal, talk to your care team to see if you should keep your ovaries.

What can I expect after uterine surgery?

Side effects of uterine cancer surgery include:

  • Infertility, not being able to get pregnant.
  • Menopause (if you were premenopausal and ovaries were removed) and its symptoms, including vaginal dryness and night sweats.

How is a uterine sarcoma treated?

Often, surgeons use a single procedure to diagnose, stage (describe severity) and treat uterine sarcoma. Treatment options are like those for endometrial cancer. You may have a hysterectomy, as well as a BSO to remove your ovaries and fallopian tubes.


Can uterine cancer be prevented?

Most of the time, you can’t prevent uterine cancer. But you can take steps to reduce your risk by:

  • Managing diabetes.
  • Maintaining a weight that’s healthy for you.
  • Talking to your provider about using progesterone-based or combined estrogen and progesterone hormonal contraceptives. These medications can offer some protection against uterine cancer.

Will estrogen replacement therapy (ERT) make me more likely to get uterine cancer?

If you’re considering ERT, talk to your healthcare provider. Together, you can discuss your cancer risk and make the decision that’s best for you.

Is there a screening test for uterine cancer?

No, there’s no screening tool. And healthcare providers usually don’t recommend regular testing for people without symptoms. They may do so if you’re at higher risk, though. If you’re at high risk, talk to your provider about regular checks for uterine cancer.

Outlook / Prognosis

What’s the survival rate for people with uterine cancer?

The five-year survival rate for endometrial cancer is 81%. That means 81% of people diagnosed with the disease are alive five years later. The rate is even higher when cancer hasn’t spread outside your uterus. Then, the survival rate reaches as high as 95%. Treatments continue to improve, along with survival rates. Uterine cancer is fatal when it goes undiagnosed and spreads. The survival rate decreases to 17% when cancer spreads to other parts of your body outside your uterus. Early detection and early treatment are key to a favorable prognosis.

Is there a cure for uterine cancer?

Fortunately, endometrial cancer is often diagnosed at an early stage. That’s because many people notice unusual bleeding and tell their healthcare providers. If cancer gets caught early and hasn’t spread to other organs, removing your uterus can cure it.

Living With

When should I see my healthcare provider?

Discuss any unusual bleeding or spotting with a provider. If you have an inherited endometrial cancer risk (passed down through genes), talk to your provider about yearly testing. You may need an endometrial biopsy every year, starting at age 35.

What should I ask my healthcare provider?

If you’ve received a uterine cancer diagnosis, ask your provider:

  • What’s the stage of my cancer?
  • What treatment options will be best for me?
  • Will I need more than one treatment?
  • Are there clinical trials I can take part in?
  • What’s the goal of treatment?
  • What can I expect after treatment?
  • Will cancer come back?
  • Am I at high risk for other cancers?

How can I take care of myself after uterine cancer treatment?

After you finish treatment, your care team will talk to you about your follow-up visits. It’s important to go to these appointments. During a follow-up visit, your provider will do a pelvic exam. They’ll also ask you about any symptoms. The goal is to make sure cancer isn’t coming back (recurring) and that you’re feeling OK after treatment.

You can also talk to your provider about ways to live a healthy life after cancer. Eating well, getting enough sleep and exercising can help you feel your best.

Additional Common Questions

What are the warning signs of uterine cancer?

Let your provider know about any irregular bleeding. Abnormal bleeding includes bleeding between periods if you still menstruate and bleeding or spotting if you’re postmenopausal. Abnormal bleeding is a symptom of many conditions, including endometrial cancer.

Does uterine cancer spread quickly?

Type 1 cancers, the most common type, don’t spread quickly. Type 2 cancers can spread quickly and may require more aggressive treatment.

At what age is endometrial cancer most common?

Endometrial cancer is most common in people who’ve gone through menopause. The average age of menopause is 51.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Uterine cancer includes endometrial cancer and uterine sarcoma. It’s the most common cancer affecting a person’s reproductive system. Often, healthcare providers use the term endometrial cancer to describe uterine cancer because it’s the most common. Uterine cancer symptoms include vaginal bleeding between periods or after menopause. If healthcare providers catch uterine cancer before it spreads, surgery can cure it. If you experience any signs of uterine cancer, contact your healthcare provider.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 03/21/2023.

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