More than 60,000 women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with womb cancer this year. It’s the fourth most common cancer in females after breast, lung, and bowel, but it’s also the least talked about. Diseases of the ovaries, breasts, and cervix may attract plenty of fundraising and media coverage, yet there’s rarely any mention of this uterine disease.
Also known as endometrial cancer, it mostly affects menopausal women who are carrying some extra weight, but there’s also a group of rare womb cancers that can affect any woman at any age. These tend to be aggressive and undetectable during your regular Pap test.
Their symptoms can also mimic other benign gynecological conditions, so any tests that do take place may not necessarily include early diagnostic testing for cancer. With all this in mind, how do you know what to look for, when to get checked out, and when not to worry?
What Causes Womb Cancer?
Most womb cancers begin in the cells that make up the lining of the womb (hence the term “endometrial cancer”). They can also start as a sarcoma in the uterine muscle. No specific cause has been identified other than an increase in body mass index—which is on the rise across all populations regardless of gender—and high levels of estrogen.
Weight gain can cause a spike in estrogen while too much estrogen can cause you to pack on the pounds, so it’s hard to know which comes first. You can, however, look out for other signs of estrogen dominance, including heavy or irregular periods, tender breasts, low libido, and increased premenstrual symptoms—all of which could be mistaken for another reproductive disorder, such as polycystic ovary syndrome.
Regardless of whether your symptoms are benign or malignant, it’s important not to let any issue go untested and untreated. Ultimately this isn’t about scaremongering—it’s about empowering you with the knowledge and awareness to reclaim your body and your right to adequate and timely healthcare. If women grow scared of their bodies and remain ignorant as a result, lawmakers are further emboldened to wreak havoc on wider access to gynecological care.
What Are the Symptoms of Womb Cancer?
Abnormal vaginal bleeding is cited as the most common symptom of womb cancer, yet bleeding between periods can indicate any number of things, from polyps to pregnancy. Post-menopausal vaginal bleeding is an immediate cause for concern, but if you’re pre-menopausal then keep track of unexpected spotting and abnormal discharge.
Symptoms of uterine cancer can start out as light bleeding and watery discharge that gets heavier over time. It might also smell bad. Additional symptoms include pain in the lower abdomen and lower back, as well as pain during sex and when you pee. There may be some blood in your urine too.
Womb Cancer Stories
An online search for “womb cancer” throws up headlines that all mimic each other with the overriding message being one of a delayed diagnosis. Treatment of uterine cancer, if left too late, will involve a hysterectomy, which leads to infertility and early menopause, but you’ll increase your chances of avoiding such extreme measures if you get checked out as soon as something’s amiss.
You know your own body better than anyone else, so trust your instincts. Don’t suffer in silence and wait until the symptoms become truly severe before you seek medical advice. Gynecological issues go ignored or endured too often simply because women don’t think their symptoms are “serious enough” or they’re too embarrassed to speak to their doctor about them.
Benign Symptoms Need Treatment Too
There’s a lot of stigma around having a disease “down there,” which can attract the kind of questions that wouldn’t be considered appropriate if you had lung cancer—or some other, more “well-known” disease. Yet when things go wrong between a woman’s legs, the assumption is sometimes made that you’ve done something wrong and brought this on yourself—maybe you’ve slept around, for example, or had an abortion.
The longer you leave or ignore concerns regarding your reproductive and sexual powerhouse—no matter how your symptoms present—the worst things can get for your overall health. Even if your symptoms indicate a non-cancerous disorder, don’t give it a chance to progress past the point of treatment.
Being self-conscious about getting a checkup is simply a toxic byproduct of the body shame that’s prevalent everywhere. Put your health and your reproductive future first since this is one more way you can help to break the social taboos that hold women down. If you have any concerns about any of the symptoms outlined above, go see your doctor as soon as you can.