Endometrial cancer is cancer of the uterus, the organ where fetal development takes place in a woman. Endometrial cancer is also called uterine cancer, and most commonly occurs in the lining of the uterus. About 50,000 new cases of endometrial cancer are diagnosed each year in the United States, resulting in over 8,000 deaths. About 500,000 survivors of endometrial cancer currently reside in the United States, because endometrial cancer is highly treatable when caught in early stages.
Symptoms of Endometrial Cancer
Endometrial cancer is often caught in early stages because one of the most common early symptoms is abnormal vaginal bleeding, which women will typically consult a doctor about. This bleeding sometimes occurs in between periods or after menopause, which is a warning sign. In some cases, a watery discharge will accompany the abnormal bleeding. Pain during intercourse or lower abdominal pain in general may also be signs of endometrial cancer.
Causes of Endometrial Cancer
Although the exact cause of endometrial cancer is unknown, increased estrogen levels seem to be a common factor. Most cases of endometrial cancer occur in women between the ages of sixty and seventy, but rare cases have occurred before the age of forty. Certain factors may increase the risk of endometrial cancer.
Contributing factors to the development of endometrial cancer include:
- Never being pregnant
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome
- Menstruation before the age of 12
- Menopause after the age of 50
- Estrogen replacement therapies
- The drug Tamoxifen
Endometrial Cancer Misdiagnosed
Endometrial cancer may be difficult to diagnose in early stages, as pelvic examinations will yield normal results until the disease has progressed. A pap smear, which is a screening test that is done annually during a regular gynecological exam, may or may not show abnormalities. If abnormalities are detected, a procedure called a dilation and curette or a biopsy may be performed to remove tissue for examination. In some cases, a transvaginal ultrasound or a hysteroscopy may be performed to rule out other conditions.
Once the patient has been diagnosed with endometrial cancer, further testing is often done in order to determine the stage of the cancer. X-rays, CT scans, blood tests may be used in addition to biopsy results to establish the stage of the cancer. Staging the cancer may help physicians decide upon the best approach to treating the endometrial cancer.
Misdiagnosis of Endometrial Cancer
Symptoms of endometrial cancer may be similar to these conditions, resulting in a misdiagnosis:
- Endometrial hyperplasia
- Endometrial polyps
- Cervical cancer
- Cervical polyps
- Certain STDs
- Pelvic Inflammatory disease
- Von Willebrand’s disease
Some of these conditions, especially Von Willebrand’s disease, may cause excessive vaginal bleeding. Diagnosing without further testing or diagnosing according to incorrect biopsy interpretation may cause the physician to misdiagnose the patient as having endometrial cancer. Physicians may also misdiagnose the patient as having one of these conditions when it is in fact endometrial cancer if testing is not done that will identify the abnormality as cancerous.
Repercussions of Misdiagnosis
One of the most common methods of treating endometrial cancer is to perform a hysterectomy, which is a surgery to remove the uterus. If a physician believes that the patient has endometrial cancer, an unnecessary hysterectomy may be performed before the correction can be made. This puts the patient at unnecessary risk, and makes it impossible for the patient to get pregnant.
Other forms of treatment for endometrial cancer include radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and hormone therapy. Being subjected to these types of treatment when the patient does not actually have endometrial cancer may harm healthy body cells and make recovery from the actual affliction more difficult. The patient is also not being treated for the disease that is causing symptoms, so the disease may be worsening as the erroneously prescribed endometrial cancer treatment is taking place.
In cases where the patient does have endometrial cancer and there is a delayed diagnosis, misdiagnosis, or failure to diagnose, the cancer is being allowed to progress and spread without treatment. In these cases, the condition may pass the point of curability or before a proper diagnosis can be made. In some cases, the patient may even die before the endometrial cancer is correctly diagnosed.
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