What a Gynecologist Wants You to Know About Endometrial Cancer

by Sheila M. Eldred Health Writer

Endometrial cancer (a form of uterine cancer) is the most common gynecological cancer in the United States, affecting about 63,230 new women every year, according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology. Still, there’s a lot most people don’t know about it. But perhaps the best thing to know is that it’s often curable. Here, Jamie Bakkum-Gamez, M.D., is a professor of obstetrics and gynecology and gynecologic oncology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., shares more key information about this cancer.

Middle aged woman talking to gynecologist.

There is no screening test for endometrial cancer

Unfortunately. there is no screening test for endometrial cancer. Dr. Bakkum-Gamez is leading a research team in hopes of developing one. For now, the best way to diagnosis it is a pelvic ultrasound followed by an endometrial biopsy. Pap tests are designed to detect cervical cancer, but sometimes may turn up clues that may make a doctor suspect endometrial cancer and recommend a biopsy. “An endometrial biopsy is not always the most comfortable, but it can be done in the office,” Dr. Bakkum-Gamez says.

Gynecologist examining older woman.

After menopause, it is not normal to bleed

“Even one drop of pink discharge is not normal,” Dr. Bakkum-Gamez reiterates. But don’t panic if you do find some blood: Only 5-10 percent of abnormal bleeding after menopause is due to cancer. A doctor will likely recommend an endometrial biopsy to rule it out, which is very accurate in detecting endometrial cancer. In other words, do not ignore bleeding; get it evaluated by a health care provider.

Talking to grandma about family history.

Family history may raise your risk

Only 3-5 percent of women diagnosed with endometrial cancer have a genetic cause for it, Dr. Bakkum-Gamez says, but it’s critical that these women know their family history. Lynch syndrome is the most common genetic cause, and it’s also associated several other types of cancer, including colon, rectal, stomach, and ovarian. If people in your family have had these cancers, get evaluated by a genetic counselor. If you do have Lynch syndrome, make sure you to tell other blood relatives they may be at risk as well.


Other risk factors for endometrial cancer

Besides family history, other factors are linked with increased chances of developing endometrial cancer. Both obesity and taking tamoxifen can double your risk of endometrial cancer. Endometrial cancer may be as much as 4 times more common in women with diabetes. And polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) can also raise your risk of endometrial cancer.

Gynecologist talking to patient about clinical trials.

Clinical trials may benefit you

If your cancer was diagnosed at an advanced stage, or if you have an aggressive or faster growing cancer, you may be a good candidate for a clinical trial. Some may involve new immunotherapies. Check out clinicaltrials.gov, where all trials are required to be registered. There are even some trials located outside of the U.S.

Clinical researcher looking through results.

Clinical trials may benefit others, as well

Dr. Bakkum-Gamez’s study on detecting endometrial cancer is open for women who have abnormal uterine bleeding or Lynch syndrome. Clinical trials have led to most of the cancer therapies available now, so they play a key role in developing future treatments as well.

Young female patient talking to doctor.

Premenopausal women can get endometrial cancer

Endometrial cancer rates are much lower in premenopausal women, but it does happen — and it doesn’t hurt to know what the symptoms are. They include abnormal uterine bleeding, heavy periods, bleeding in between periods — or any big changes in bleeding, Dr. Bakkum-Gamez says, such as sudden onset of super heavy periods.

Doctor being compassionate with patient.

If you get a diagnosis, go to a gynecological oncologist

“Seeing a specialist who treats women who have endometrial cancer on a regular basis is critical to getting individualized care and the most contemporary technology when it comes to treatment,” Dr. Bakkum-Gamez says.

Surgeon performing surgery.

If you get a diagnosis, seek out minimally invasive surgery, too

The Commission on Cancer states that all women who qualify for a minimally invasive hysterectomy should get it. Generally, that’s women with cancer in stages I-III. Among other improved outcomes, this type of robotic surgery shortens hospitalization and recovery time and decreases blood loss. But one review showed that half of surgeons were still performing the surgeries through a big incision. Dr. Bakkum-Gamez recommends looking for a place where you can get minimally invasive surgery.

Sheila M. Eldred
Meet Our Writer
Sheila M. Eldred

Sheila Mulrooney Eldred is a graduate of Columbia’s School of Journalism and a former newspaper reporter. As a freelance health journalist, she writes about everything from life-threatening diseases to elite athletes. Her stories have appeared in The New York Times, Nature, FiveThirtyEight, Pacific Standard, STAT News, and other publications. In her spare time, she and her family love running, cross-country skiing, and mountain biking in Minneapolis.