Uterine cancer, also known as endometrial cancer, occurs most often in women who have gone through menopause, though about a quarter of uterine cancer cases involve women under the age of 50. According to the MD Anderson Cancer Center, uterine cancer is the fourth most common form of cancer in women.
Abnormal Vaginal Bleeding
According to the American Cancer Society, the most common early sign of uterine cancer is abnormal vaginal bleeding. Vaginal bleeding is considered abnormal when it occurs between menstrual periods. This can be anything from regular “spotting” without any other cause to heavy bleeding between cycles. Vaginal bleeding after menopause is also considered abnormal and may be a sign of uterine cancer.
Unusual Vaginal Discharge
Unusual vaginal discharge, even without bleeding, can also be a sign of uterine cancer. This symptom is not nearly as common as abnormal vaginal bleeding and, according to the American Cancer Society, is only present in about ten percent of uterine cancer cases. It recommends any change in vaginal discharge be reported to your physician.
Another common sign of uterine cancer is pelvic pain. Though it typically occurs a bit later in the disease than abnormal bleeding and discharge, it is another early sign of a problem. Any unusual pain or discomfort in the lower abdomen or pelvis should be reported to your doctor. According to the American Cancer Society, any delay in reporting symptoms, including those that typically occur later in the disease, can decrease the effectiveness of treatment.
Uncomfortable or Painful Urination and Intercourse
In the early to middle stages of uterine cancer, you may find it difficult to empty your bladder or to control the muscles associated with urination. At the same time, urinating may be painful. Additionally, you may experience pain during sexual intercourse. If you develop one or both of these symptoms, even in the absence of other uterine cancer symptoms, consult your physician.
Presence of Uterine Polyps or a Pelvic Mass
If your doctor suspects you have uterine cancer, he may perform an ultrasound or use a scope to check the structures in and around your uterus. The presence of a mass in the pelvic cavity or any unusual polyps in the uterine lining could be an indicator of uterine cancer. If he finds any abnormalities, he will usually take one or more samples of the uterine tissue for testing.
Low Blood Count and CA 125
A test called a CBC (complete blood count) can determine if your red blood cells are low. In women with uterine cancer, the loss of blood from the uterine lining can cause anemia, which results in a decreased number of red blood cells. Another indicator of uterine cancer is the presence of CA 125 in the blood. CA 125 is a chemical that may be found in the blood in some cases of uterine cancer. The higher the level, the more likely that uterine cancer has spread.