Cancer of the uterus is the fourth most common cancer in women. Approximately 41,000 cases of uterine cancer are diagnosed annually. Nevertheless, uterine cancer is the eighth most common cause of cancer deaths because it is generally diagnosed early. (Approximately 7,300 women die annually from uterine cancer. By way of comparison, ovarian cancer is annually diagnosed approximately 22,000 times with over 16,000 deaths). Thus, as with many other cancers, an early diagnosis of uterine cancer is crucial.
The most common symptom in 90% of women diagnosed with uterine cancer is postmenopausal bleeding. Because most women recognize the need for prompt evaluation of such bleeding, almost 75% of women are diagnosed with stage 1 uterine cancer. On average, women are diagnosed with uterine cancer at age 60. Women younger than age 40 who are diagnosed with the disease make up only 5% of the total cases, and those women almost always have specific risk factors including morbid obesity, chronic lack of ovulation and hereditary syndromes. Women who have taken tamoxifen following breast cancer are also at an increased risk for the disease.
Women who experience postmenopausal bleeding generally should undergo a dilatation and curettage (D&C) in the offices of their gynecologist. The use of this procedure by an experienced physician can diagnose up to 90% of uterine cancers. Stage 1 disease can generally be cured by surgery alone, without the need for follow-up radiation. Survival rates with surgery are 15-20% higher than with primary radiation treatment, so that primary radiation should be used only with women who are poor surgical candidates or who have unresectable tumors. Because of the high cure rates, screening is not recommended for asymptomatic women, even those who have taken tamoxifen.
Following primary treatment for uterine cancer, a woman should be seen every three to four months for the first two years, as 85% of recurrences occur in that period. For the next three years, semi-annual examinations are recommended with annual exams thereafter. These examinations should include a pelvic examination, a Pap smear and a survey of the lymph nodes. Chest x-rays may also be employed.
The medical malpractice attorneys at Rosen Louik & Perry in Pittsburgh have successfully represented women (and their families) who suffered injuries because of the failure to timely diagnose uterine cancer. If you have any questions concerning this or other matters, contact Rosen Louik & Perry for more information or a consultation.