The uterus, or womb, is part of a woman’s reproductive system. It is about the size and shape of a hollow, upside-down pear. The uterus sits low in the abdomen between the bladder and rectum and is held there by muscle. It is joined to the vagina by the cervix, which is the neck of the uterus. The uterus is where a foetus grows.
The uterus is made up of two layers:
When a woman releases an egg (ovum) from her ovary (ovulates), the egg travels down her fallopian tube into the uterus. If the egg is fertilised by a sperm, it will implant itself into the lining of the uterus and grow into a baby. If the egg is not fertilised by a sperm, the lining is shed and flows out of the body through the vagina. This flow is known as a woman’s period (menstruation).
Menopause occurs when the levels of hormones in a woman’s body that cause ovulation and menstruation decrease. A menopausal woman’s periods stop, and she is not able to become pregnant. The uterus becomes smaller and the endometrium becomes thinner and inactive.
Cancer of the uterus is cancer that begins from abnormal cells in the lining of the uterus (endometrium) or the muscle tissue (myometrium).
The exact cause of cancer of the uterus is unknown, but some factors seem to increase a woman’s risk:
Many women who have risk factors don’t develop cancer of the uterus, and some women who do get cancer have no risk factors.
Uterine cancer can be either endometrial cancer or the less common uterine sarcoma.
Most cancers of the uterus begin in the lining of the uterus and are called endometrial cancers. There are two main types of endometrial cancer:
||Usually called endometrioid cancers. Type 1 cancers are the most common types of endometrial cancer and usually require less intensive treatment.|
||Include malignant mixed Müllerian tumours, serous carcinoma and clear cell carcinoma. Type 2 cancers are much less common types of endometrial cancer. Treatment usually involves more invasive surgery and chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy.|
These develop in the muscle of the uterus (myometrium) or the connective tissue supporting the endometrium, which is called the stroma. There are three types:
||These types are rare and may be more likely to spread to other parts of the body.|
The most common symptom of cancer of the uterus is unusual vaginal bleeding, particularly if the cancer occurs after menopause. Some women experience a watery discharge, which may have an offensive smell.
Abnormal bleeding or discharge can happen for other reasons, but it is best to check with your general practitioner (GP). They will examine you and refer you for tests to see if you have cancer. Learn more about some types of diagnostic tests.
It is estimated that about 2400 women in Australia are
diagnosed with uterine cancer each year.1 The majority
of uterine cancers are diagnosed in women aged 50 and
over. Uterine cancer is the most commonly diagnosed
gynaecological cancer in Australia.