Can endometrial cancer be found early?
In most cases, noticing any signs and symptoms of endometrial cancer, such as abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge (that is increasing in amount, occurring between periods, or occurring after menopause), and reporting them right away to your doctor allows the disease to be diagnosed at an early stage. Early detection improves the chances that your cancer will be treated successfully. But some endometrial cancers may reach an advanced stage before signs and symptoms can be noticed. More information can be found in “Signs and symptoms of endometrial cancer”
Early detection tests
Early detection (also called screening) refers to the use of tests to find a disease such as cancer in people who do not have symptoms of that disease.
Women at average endometrial cancer risk
At this time, there are no screening tests or exams to find endometrial cancer early in women who are at average endometrial cancer risk and have no symptoms.
The American Cancer Society recommends that, at menopause, all women should be told about the risks and symptoms of endometrial cancer and strongly encouraged to report any vaginal bleeding, discharge, or spotting to their doctor.
Women should talk to their doctors about getting regular pelvic exams. A pelvic exam can find some cancers, including some advanced uterine cancers, but it is not very effective in finding early endometrial cancers.
The Pap test (or Pap smear), which screens women for cervical cancer, can occasionally find some early endometrial cancers, but it’s not a good test for this type of cancer. The Pap test is very effective in finding early cancers of the cervix (the lower part of the uterus). For information on screening tests for cervical cancer, see Cervical Cancer: Prevention and Early Detection.
Women at increased endometrial cancer risk
The American Cancer Society recommends that most women at increased risk should be informed of their risk and be advised to see their doctor whenever they have any abnormal vaginal bleeding. This includes women whose risk of endometrial cancer is increased due to increasing age, late menopause, never giving birth, infertility, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, estrogen treatment, or tamoxifen therapy.
Women who have (or may have) hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer (HNPCC, sometimes called Lynch syndrome) have a very high risk of endometrial cancer. If colon or endometrial cancer has occurred in several family members, you might want to think about having genetic counseling to learn about your family’s risk of having HNPCC. If you (or a close relative) have genetic testing and are found to have a mutation in one of the genes for HNPCC, you have a high risk of getting endometrial cancer. See Genetic Testing: What You Need to Know for more on genetic testing.
The American Cancer Society recommends that women who have (or may have) HNPCC be offered yearly testing for endometrial cancer with endometrial biopsy beginning at age 35. Their doctors should discuss this test with them, including its risks, benefits, and limitations. This applies to women known to carry HNPCC-linked gene mutations, women who are likely to carry such a mutation (those with a mutation known to be present in the family), and women from families with a tendency to get colon cancer where genetic testing has not been done.
Another option for a woman who has (or may have) HNPCC would be to have a hysterectomy once she is finished having children. This was discussed in “Can endometrial cancer be prevented?”
Last Medical Review: 01/12/2015
Last Revised: 02/26/2015