Black Women and Uterine Cancer / Endometrial Cancer
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FACT: According to the NIH, uterine cancer has a 95% survivability when diagnosed at an early stage. There are no routine screening tests for uterine cancer. Therefore, it is important to pay attention to changes in your body and know the warning signs.
The Basics: What are Uterine and Endometrial Cancer?
Uterine Cancer is most commonly diagnosed in women from ages 55 to 64. Uterine cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women in the United States and the most commonly diagnosed gynecologic cancer. Uterine cancer has a 95% survivability when diagnosed at an early stage.
The terms “uterine cancer” and “endometrial cancer” are often used interchangeably. Endometrial cancer is actually a subtype of uterine cancer that forms in the endometrium, the lining of the uterus.
Uterine cancer starts in the uterus. Your uterus is also referred to as your womb. The uterus is pear-shaped and located below your belly button and in between your pelvic bones. The uterus consists of main, upper part which is referred to as the body or the corpus, and the cervix, which is where the uterus connects with the vagina.
Uterine cancer refers to cancer of the upper part (the body) of the uterus while cervical cancer is classified as a separate type of cancer (Please feel free to check out our cervical cancer resource page!). Endometrial cancer is the most common type of uterine cancer. 90% of diagnosed uterine cancer cases are endometrial cancer. Uterine sarcoma is another form of uterine cancer, which is generally more aggressive than endometrial cancer.
Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer:
Abnormal vaginal bleeding occurs in 90% of endometrial cancer cases.
If you are premenopausal, this will look like:
- Abnormally long or painful periods, bleeding between periods
If you have already experienced menopause, this will look like:
- ANY vaginal bleeding
- Pelvic pressure, pelvic pain, or a pelvic mass
- Difficulty and pain during urination
- Abnormal discharge
- Painful intercourse
Risk factors for Uterine and Endometrial Cancer:
There is no way to know for sure if you will get uterine cancer. Some women get it without being at high risk. However, the following factors may increase a your risk for developing uterine cancer:
- If you take estrogen without progesterone as a menopausal therapy (Hormonal Replacement Therapy, HRT)
- Early or precocious puberty
- Abnormal precancerous changes to the uterus
- If you’ve had trouble getting pregnant
- Fewer than five periods in a year at any time in your life before starting menopause
- Late menopause
- Older than 50 years old
- Diabetes or high blood pressure
- Family history of early-onset colorectal cancer or other reproductive cancers
Prevalence of Uterine Cancer in Black Women:
Approximately 3.1% of women will be diagnosed with uterine cancer in their lifetime. Black women are significantly more likely than white women to have advanced stages of uterine cancer and to have more aggressive tumor types (clear cell, serous, high-grade endometrioid, and malignant mixed Mullerian tumors).
A 2017 study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology found that the greater mortality rate for Black women from endometrial cancer can be partially attributed to a higher prevalence of molecular and genetic markers for more aggressive forms of endometrial cancer. However, the study found also that Black women are also less likely to receive the proper care for this disease than white women, which greatly contributes to racial disparities in mortality. Black women are less likely to receive necessary surgery at every stage of endometrial cancer and are more likely to be diagnosed at an advanced stage of the disease.
On January 20, 2020 the US Postal Service unveiled the 43rd postage stamp in the Black Heritage Series, featuring Gwen Ifill. Ifill dedicated 40 years of her life to journalism, working for The Washington Post, The New York Times and the National Broadcasting Company. She became the first woman and African American to moderate a major television news show. Ifill’s work garnered many awards, including the George Foster Peabody Award and the Leonard Zeidenberg First Amendment Award. In 2016, she passed away from an aggressive form of endometrial cancer.
In August of 2017, RSP lifted and honored the legacy of the much-acclaimed Gwen Ifill. This special gathering, held at Martha’s Vineyard, had the purpose of addressing diseases of the reproductive system in women of African descent, such as endometrial cancer, which continues to disproportionately affect women of color. For more information on the much-beloved Gwen Ifill, please see our Gwen Ifill posting on the Sankofa Spotlight section of our website.
Uterine and Endometrial Cancer FAQ
Your risk for developing uterine cancer can be reduced by the following measures:
-Awareness of risk factors for this cancer
-Avoiding taking “unopposed estrogen” therapy -- This means taking estrogen without taking progesterone (Hormonal Replacement Therapy)
-Promptly seeing a health professional for any abnormal bleeding
-Maintaining a normal weight
-Eating a balanced diet
-Diabetes prevention, including avoiding sugary beverages
Unlike for breast and cervical cancer, there are no routine screening tests for uterine cancer, according to the CDC.
It is important to know that the Pap test does NOT screen for uterine cancer. It only screens for cervical cancer. This makes it important for you to pay attention to changes in your body and know the warning signs of uterine cancer.
-Pay close attention to any abnormal vaginal bleeding including bleeding between periods, periods that are prolonged or unusually heavy for you, and especially ANY bleeding after menopause.
-If you have any symptoms, your healthcare provider may give you an endometrial biopsy or send you to have a transvaginal ultrasound to diagnose or rule out uterine cancer. (CDC)
The most common treatment for uterine cancer is a total hysterectomy in which the uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries and lymph nodes in which the tumor commonly spreads are all removed.
Other therapies include: radiation, chemotherapy, or hormone therapy.
A 2013 study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention revealed that a greater consumption of soft drinks and other sugar-sweetened beverages leads to an increased risk of type 1 endometrial cancer. The study found that women who consumed the most amount of sugary beverages of the 23,039 post-menopausal women studied were 78% more likely to develop type 1endometrial cancer.
- Endometrial Cancer Action Network for African-Americans (ECANA)
This organization aims to provide community and support for Black women affected by endometrial cancer. They also provide some great resources that will help you know what to ask your provider when discussing endometrial cancer.
- American Cancer Society (ACS)
The American Cancer Society has some great information on endometrial cancer, including details about how to understand staging and going through treatment.
- Centers for Disease Control: Endometrial Cancer
- We Need Better Endometrial Cancer Research
The Huffington Post published a great article in 2016 about Gwen Ifill’s death and the persistent need for more research on how endometrial cancer affects Black women.