Uterine cancer, although, is a collective term referring to the different types of cancer associated with the uterus, it is commonly used for Endometrial cancer. Endometrial cancer is the cancer developed in the cells or tissues of the endometrium, the uterine lining.
The diagnosis of uterine cancer is based on one or more of the physical exam, blood test, pelvic exam, ultrasound and biopsy. If cancer is found, tissue samples from the uterus are studied to determine the grade of the cancerous tissues. This pathological study shows the deviation of the cancerous tissues from the normal uterine tissues and also establishes the growth rate of the tumor.
There are different stages of uterine cancer which reflect the extent to which the cancer has developed, the location, how much it has spread and whether it is affecting other organs of the body. The stage of cancer determines the course of treatment to be followed. The different stages of uterine cancer are as follows:
The stage 0 of uterine cancer is called carcinoma in situ. Regular pap smear can help detect the cancer in this early stage. At this stage, the cancer is confined to the surface of the uterus lining and can be completely removed by surgical procedures like vaginal hysterectomy, abdominal hysterectomy or laparoscopic hysterectomy.
The cancer is still confined to the uterus at this stage and has not spread to the pelvic lymph nodes or other parts of the body. This stage can further be sub-divided into stage IA when the cancer has invaded into less than 50% of the uterine lining and stage IB when the cancer has progressed in to more than 50% of the uterine lining. The cancer at this stage is also treated with hysterectomy but may have to be followed up by radiation and chemotherapy. The five year survival rate for this stage is above 80%.
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The cancer has extended into the cervix at this stage. The extension can be superficial along the opening of cervix into the uterine cavity or it may be deeper rooted. The five year survival rate at this stage is 65% and the treatment is a combination of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.
Stage III signifies the movement of the malignancy beyond the uterus to the lower levels of the vagina and/or into the pelvic wall. At this stage, the tumor causes blockage in the ureters and affects the functioning of the kidneys. It may also have spread into the pelvic lymph nodes. At stage III, the five year disease free survival rate is 30%.
AT stage IV, the cancer has metastasized, i.e. it has moved to other parts of the body. It may have spread beyond the pelvis to the bladder, abdomen, intestine, lungs or other parts of the body as well. The five year survival rate at this stage is 10%. The five year disease free survival rates depend on the sub-stages and grade of the tumor. If no recurrences occur in five years’ time, the cancer is considered to be fully cured.