A couple weeks after receiving "normal" results on her annual Pap smear, Beth Brown, 58, of Louisville, noticed a little blood in her urine.
"I thought I had a urinary tract infection," Brown said. "So I started drinking more water and cranberry juice." Her primary care physician referred Brown to a gynecologist for a biopsy that confirmed she had endometrial cancer.
"Endometrial cancer, which occurs in the lining of the uterus, is the most common gynecologic cancer," said Mary E. Gordinier, M.D., Gynecologic oncology. "It's also one of the most curable when diagnosed early."
Abnormal bleeding is usually the first warning sign of uterine cancer, according to Dr. Gordinier. She defines "abnormal" three ways: increasingly heavy or irregular periods for menstruating women, particularly those age 35 and older; periods that do not become lighter and less frequent for perimenopausal women; and any bleeding, light spotting or brown discharge for women once their periods have stopped. Other symptoms that need evaluation by a gynecologist include pain during urination or intercourse.
If a woman is overweight, she runs a greater risk of cancer or endometrial hyperplasia, a precancerous condition in the lining of the uterus that also causes bleeding, according to Dr. Gordinier. Treatment for precancer may include weight loss and hormone therapy; however, the condition can recur if a more ideal weight is not maintained.
"Many women with gynecologic cancers are candidates for a minimally invasive robotic surgery," Dr. Gordinier said. "The surgeon controls the robot for a more precise surgery, which is particularly helpful when lymph nodes need to be removed." Other potential patient benefits of this approach include smaller incisions and a faster recovery.
"I was fortunate that my cancer was caught early," Brown said. "Dr. Gordinier made five tiny incisions. I really didn't have much pain at all and went back to work in six weeks." Now that she is cancer-free, Brown will be seen several times a year to have examinations and Pap smears. With endometrial cancer, if recurrence occurs, it is usually within the first three years, so patients are watched more closely during this time.
Want to know more?
To learn more about endometrial cancer, visit NortonHealthcare.com/uterinecancers or call (502) 629-1234.