Uterine cancer is cancer of the uterus. There are two types of uterine cancers, endometrial cancer (cancer of the inner uterus lining) and uterine sarcoma cancer (cancer of the myometrium, muscle of the uterus). Diagnosing cancer early on can increase your recovery rate. If cancer is detected in the early stage, it is easier to treat it than in a later stage. There are different tests to be conducted for diagnosing different cancer types. Diagnostic tests for uterine cancer include a pelvic exam, pelvic ultrasound, endometrial biopsy and hysteroscopy and biopsy.
Your doctor will start with a physical exam by looking at your abdominal area for any swelling. Your doctor will then use their fingers for an internal examination, feeling for any swelling or growth. The doctor might also use a speculum during the examination, this is an instrument that opens the vaginal walls.
An ultrasound uses sound waves to detect any abnormal growth in the pelvic area. The sound waves are used to create a picture of the uterus and ovaries. The tumours or growths can be seen when the sound waves echo against a dense object. The are two types of pelvic ultrasounds.
- Abdominal ultrasound – This is when a sonographer moves a device over your abdominal area to see if there is any abnormal growth or tumours.
- Transvaginal ultrasound – This is where the sonographer will insert a transducer wand inside your vagina. The transducer wand will be covered with a disposable plastic containing a lubricant that will prevent any discomfort when inserting the device. This ultrasound might be uncomfortable, but it should not be painful. His type of ultrasound provides a clearer picture than the abdominal ultrasound. An appointment for an ultrasound normally lasts for 15-30 minutes.
This procedure can be done in the doctor’s rooms and only takes a few minutes. A pipelle (long thin plastic tube) is inserted into the vagina and through the cervix to gently collect cells from the uterus. This procedure might be uncomfortable, causing the same feeling such as period pain. The sample of cells will be sent to a pathologist to examine under a microscope.
Hysteroscopy and Biopsy
This is when a biopsy is taken during a hysteroscopy. The procedure will allow the specialist to see inside the uterus and examine for any abnormal growth. The doctor will book you into the hospital as this procedure will be performed while you are under a general anaesthetic. A thin tube with a small light and camera will be inserted through your vagina and into your uterus. To perform the biopsy the doctor will use instruments to help widen the vagina wall and cervix. It is normal for you to experience spotting and period pain cramps after the biopsy. The pathologist will receive the tissue sample collected during the biopsy and confirm whether the cells are malignant or benign.
Other tests can also be conducted after uterine cancer has been diagnosed. Your doctor might also want you to conduct other tests to see if the cancer has spread to the rest of your body. The doctor might want to have an x-ray test conducted where they do a chest x-ray to look at your heart and lungs. Followed by a CT scan of your chest, abdomen and pelvis. An MRI scan can also be conducted where a magnet and radio waves create a detailed cross-sectional body image for the doctor to look at. Your doctor might also want a PET scan done where they inject you with a small amount of glucose, which will allow cancer cells to be more visible on the scan.
Prognosis of Uterine Cancer
The expected outcome of a disease is known as the prognosis. Everyone has a unique case and responds differently to treatment, but your doctor can give you an idea of what you can expect from what they have seen with previous patients with the same type and stage of cancer as yourself.
Your doctor will use test results, the type of cancer, the rate and depth of your tumour, your age and level of fitness as well as your likelihood to respond to treatment. In general, the more early cancer is diagnosed, the better the outcome.