Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine.
Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

Diagnosing Uterine Cancer

Diagnosing Uterine Cancer

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Symptoms of Uterine Cancer
Uterine cancer may cause one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding, spotting or discharge, especially after menopause
  • Pain or difficulty when emptying the bladder
  • Pain during sex
  • Pain in the pelvic area

Keep in mind that these symptoms can also indicate conditions other than uterine cancer. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, contact your doctor as soon as possible so that the cause can be diagnosed and treated promptly.

Diagnostic Tests for Uterine Cancer
If you are experiencing some symptoms of uterine cancer, your doctor will first ask you some questions and do a physical exam to look for any changes in the uterus, vagina, ovaries, fallopian tubes, bladder and rectum.

If your doctor suspects uterine cancer, he or she may recommend one of the following tests:

  • Biopsy: Your doctor inserts a very thin, flexible tube into the uterus through the cervix and removes a small amount of endometrium (the inner lining of the uterus) through the tube so that the cells can be examined by a pathologist for cancer.
  • Transvaginal ultrasound: An ultrasound wand is inserted into the vagina and aimed at the uterus to obtain detailed images. If the endometrium (the inner lining of the uterus) appears unusually thick or other signs of a tumor are present, your doctor may recommend a biopsy.
  • Hysteroscopy: Your doctor inserts a tiny telescope into the uterus through the cervix. To get a better view, the uterus is then expanded by filling it with salt water (saline), which lets your doctor see and biopsy anything that appears abnormal.
  • CT Scan: A computed tomography (CT) scan is an imaging method using X-rays to create cross-sectional pictures that can show any abnormalities or tumors. Sometimes a contrast medium (a special dye) is injected into a vein to provide better detail.
  • MRI: Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) creates images using radio waves and strong magnets instead of X-rays. An MRI scan can help your doctor tell if a uterine tumor appears cancerous, but a biopsy is the only way to tell for sure.
  • PET Scan: In a positron emission tomography (PET) scan, radioactive glucose (sugar) is first injected into a vein. Because cancer cells consume glucose at a higher rate than normal tissues, the radioactivity will tend to concentrate in the cancer, and a scanner then checks for radioactive deposits. This test can be helpful for spotting small masses of cancer cells and may also help your doctor tell if a tumor is benign or malignant.

Diagnosing Uterine Cancer (cont’d)

Staging Uterine Cancer
If uterine cancer is diagnosed, the next step is to determine the extent, or stage, of the disease so that your doctor can devise a course of treatment. Accurately staging uterine cancer may involve further tests.

There are four possible outcomes of the staging process:

  • Stage 0: Abnormal cells are found only on the surface of the endometrium (the inner lining of the uterus) .
  • Stage I: The tumor has grown through surface to the endometrium and may have invaded the myometrium (the middle layer of the uterine wall).
  • Stage II: The tumor has invaded the cervix.
  • Stage III: The tumor has grown through the uterus to reach nearby tissues, such as the vagina or a lymph node.
  • Stage IV: The tumor has spread to the bladder or intestine, or cancer cells have spread to remote parts of the body such as the liver or lungs.

Genetic Testing and Uterine Cancer [adapted from this page]
Recent studies have shown a link between a condition known as hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC), also known as Lynch Syndrome, and uterine cancer. HNPCC is caused by a genetic mutation and greatly increases the risk of many cancers, especially colorectal and uterine. Having HNPCC can increase a woman’s lifetime risk of developing uterine cancer to more than 70 percent.

Methodist Obstetrics and Gynecology Group’s revolutionary approaches to treatment include the option of genetic testing. Those who would benefit from this test are individuals with a strong family history of uterine or colorectal cancer, particularly early-onset cancer (cancer which developed before age 50). If you have a potentially high risk for uterine cancer, your physician may recommend testing to determine an appropriate prevention plan.

Learn more about uterine cancer:

For more information about uterine cancer treatment at the Methodist Cancer Center or to make an appointment, call us at 713-790-2700.