- Endometrial cancer, like any other disease, can have a variety of symptoms that are misdiagnosed.
- Digestive problems, swelling, and abnormal pelvic pain or bleeding are grounds for seeking medical attention.
- People with risk factors such as diabetes and high blood pressure should be aware of special symptoms.
Endometrial cancer, which affects the lining of the uterus, is the most common cancer of the female reproductive organs, with more than 65,000 cases reported each year in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society.
Also known as uterine cancer, it can be difficult to detect early, says Dr. Eleanor Teplinsky, chief of breast medical oncology at Valley Health System and clinical assistant professor of medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
“A lot of times the symptoms are vague and can be attributed to other things, because people don’t have cancer in their minds right away,” Teplinsky told Insider.
As a result, he often sees patients who are misdiagnosed or wait too long for help. Symptoms can vary, and anything that feels like “off” for a long period of time is a reason to talk to a doctor, she said.
Here are the most common symptoms of endometrial cancer:
Unusual vaginal bleeding is a red flag
According to Teplinski, the most common early symptom of endometrial cancer is vaginal bleeding or spotting outside of a normal period.
Most endometrial cancer occurs in people over the age of 70, so postmenopausal bleeding does not always indicate cancer.
However, irregular bleeding can also be a cause for concern in young men who are still menstruating.
“The most important thing is not to ignore the bleeding, which is something many people do,” Teplinski said. “If something feels wrong with your body, it’s not normal, get it checked out.”
Pelvic pain or pain during intercourse are grounds for examination
Endometrial cancer can also present as pain in the pelvic area, which can feel vague because it’s ignored, Teplinski said.
“We don’t always associate it with cancer, but just anything that feels off should be evaluated,” she said.
Even if you suspect it may be due to painful intercourse or other causes, such as vaginal bleeding or vaginal dryness, you should get tested, she said.
Swelling or a strange feeling of fullness should not be ignored
Gynecological cancer can sometimes also cause unexplained weight gain or bloating, or unusually full feelings.
Not all swelling or uncomfortable fullness is an indication of cancer. However, if there are no other explanations, such as overeating or consuming something that doesn’t agree with you, you should see a doctor.
“If you’re taking a few bites of food and you feel like you can’t keep eating, that’s not normal,” Teplinski said.
Symptoms that persist for two to three weeks are cause for concern, especially if they worsen over time.
Nausea or GI issues can sometimes indicate advanced gynecological cancer
One of the factors that make endometrial and other reproductive cancers difficult to diagnose is that they are sometimes mistaken for gastrointestinal disorders, including acid reflux or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
It’s easy to misinterpret symptoms like nausea, vomiting and other indigestion, Teplinski said.
The same symptoms may indicate other types of gynecological cancer, which may not be symptomatic until they have spread.
“Without a picture it can be very difficult to distinguish what we’re dealing with, so access is important,” he said.
If you have a risk factor for cancer, such as diabetes, obesity, or high blood pressure, pay attention to changes in your health.
“The biggest thing is to know your risk, know what the symptoms are and listen to your body and protect yourself,” Teplinsky said. “It’s very easy to write these symptoms off as something else, but if they don’t go away, you need to get checked out.”