Conditions & Treatments

Endometrial Cancer

Cancer of the endometrium, the most common cancer of the female reproductive organs, is a disease in which malignant (cancerous) cells are found in the endometrium. Endometrioid cancer is a specific type of endometrial cancer.

Endometrial Cancer

Illustration of the anatomy of the female pelvic area
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What is endometrial cancer?

The lining of the uterus is called the endometrium. Cancer of the endometrium, the most common cancer of the female reproductive organs, is a disease in which malignant (cancerous) cells are found in the endometrium.

Cancer of the endometrium is different from cancer of the muscle of the uterus, which is called uterine sarcoma. About 80% of all endometrial cancers are adenocarcinomas. Endometrial cancer is highly curable when found early. According to the American Cancer Society, about 49,560 cases of cancer of the uterine body will be diagnosed in the U.S. during 2013.

What are risk factors for endometrial cancer?

The following have been suggested as risk factors for endometrial cancer:

  • Early menarche starting monthly periods early before the age of 12

  • Late menopause

  • Infertility (inability to become pregnant)

  • Never having children

  • Obesity

  • Being treated with tamoxifen for breast cancer

  • Estrogen replacement therapy (ERT) for treatment of effects of menopause

  • Diet high in animal fat

  • Diabetes

  • Increases as women get older

  • Most common in white women

  • Family history of endometrial cancer or colon cancer (hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer)

  • Personal history of breast cancer

  • Personal history of ovarian cancer

  • Prior radiation therapy for pelvic cancer

  • Personal history of polycystic ovary syndrome or atypical endometrial hyperplasia

What are the symptoms of endometrial cancer?

Consult a doctor if you experience any/all of the following symptoms:

  • Bleeding or discharge not related to your periods (menstruation)

  • Postmenopausal bleeding

  • Difficult or painful urination

  • Pain during intercourse

  • Pain and/or mass in the pelvic area

How can endometrial cancer be prevented?

The exact cause of endometrial cancer is not known, and there is no medical cure for it at this time. However, doctors believe that avoiding the known risk factors, when possible, using oral contraceptives, controlling obesity, and controlling diabetes are the best ways to lower the risk of developing endometrial cancer.

How is endometrial cancer diagnosed?

Diagnosis includes a medical history and physical exam. It may also include 1 or more of the following: 

  • Internal pelvic examination. This is done to feel for any lumps or changes in the shape of the uterus

  • Pap test (also called Pap smear). A test that involves microscopic examination of cells collected from the cervix, used to detect changes that may be cancer or may lead to cancer, and to show noncancerous conditions, such as infection or inflammation. However, because cancer of the endometrium begins inside the uterus, problems may not be detected using a Pap test. Therefore, in some cases, an endometrial biopsy will be done.

  • Endometrial biopsy. A procedure in which an endometrial tissue sample is collected by using a small flexible tube that is put into the uterus. The tissue sample is examined under a microscope to see if cancer or other abnormal cells are present. An endometrial biopsy procedure is often done in a doctor’s office.

  • Dilation and curettage (also called D & C). A minor operation in which the cervix is dilated (opened) so that the cervical canal and uterine lining can be scraped with a curette (spoon-shaped instrument). The pathologist examines the tissue for cancer cells.

  • Transvaginal ultrasound (also called ultrasonography). An ultrasound test using a small instrument, called a transducer, that is placed in the vagina. The doctor may perform a biopsy if the endometrium looks too thick.

Treatment for endometrial cancer

Specific treatment for endometrial cancer will be determined by your doctor(s) based on:

  • Your overall health and medical history

  • Extent of the disease

  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies

  • Expectations for the course of the disease

  • Your opinion or preference

The choice of treatment depends on the stage of cancer whether it is just in the endometrium, or has spread to other parts of the uterus or other parts of the body. Generally, treatment for patients with cancer of the endometrium includes 1 or more of the following:

  • Surgery, including:

    • Hysterectomy. Surgical removal of the uterus.

    • Salpingo-oophorectomy. Surgery to remove the fallopian tubes and ovaries.

    • Pelvic lymph node dissection. Removal of some lymph nodes from the pelvis.

    • Laparoscopic lymph node sampling. Lymph nodes are removed through a narrow viewing tube called a laparoscope, which is inserted through a small incision (cut) in the abdomen (belly).

  • Radiation therapy

  • Chemotherapy

  • Hormone therapy

Treatment Programs


Massachusetts General Hospital understands that a variety of factors influence patients' health care decisions. That's just one reason why we're dedicated to ensuring patients understand their diagnosis and treatment options. Because a single option might not serve all patients, we offer a wide range of coordinated treatments and related services across the hospital. Patients should consult with their primary care doctor or other qualified health care provider for medical advice and diagnosis information.

Select a treatment program for more information:



Cancer Center

  • Endometrial Cancer
    The Gillette Center for Gynecologic Oncology offers women with endometrial cancer comprehensive, coordinated care supported by surgical innovation, research and clinical trials.
Imaging

  • Cancer Imaging and Intervention
    The Cancer Imaging and Intervention Program at Massachusetts General Hospital Imaging combines leading-edge technology and the expertise of specialty-trained radiologists to provide comprehensive cancer detection and monitoring, plus image-guided treatments for specific types of cancer.
Department of Radiation Oncology

  • Gynecologic Program
    The Gynecologic Program in the Department of Radiation Oncology administers innovative radiation treatments to women with malignancies of the reproductive tract.
Obstetrics and Gynecology

  • Minimally Invasive Gynecologic Surgery Center
    The Minimally Invasive Gynecologic Surgery (MIGS) Center at Massachusetts General Hospital delivers innovative, multidisciplinary care for a full range of gynecologic conditions including endometriosis, fibroids, abnormal uterine bleeding, ovarian cysts/masses, pelvic pain, urinary incontinence and gynecologic cancers.
  • Midlife Women's Health Center
    The Massachusetts General Hospital Midlife Women’s Health Center brings together experts from more than 15 specialties to improve, promote and advance health care for women at menopause and beyond through research, collaboration and education.
  • Benign Gynecology Program
    The Benign Gynecology Program at the Massachusetts General Hospital Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology delivers compassionate, expert care for the full range of gynecologic issues.
  • Obstetrics Program
    The Obstetrics Program at Massachusetts General Hospital provides state-of-the-art, individualized care for women before, during and after childbirth.
Benson Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine

  • Consultation
    Come in for a consultation, leave with a comprehensive mind body treatment plan that addresses your stress-related medical condition.
  • Cancer Program
    Designed to supplement the medical treatment of cancer patients by giving them tools to cope with the stress of their illness, make informed choices about treatment, and maintain hope.

The following related clinical trials and research studies are currently seeking participants at Massachusetts General Hospital. Search for clinical trials and studies in another area of interest.

Innovative care at the Cancer Center

Learn more about the latest treatment options for this condition at the Cancer Center