Before a uterine cancer diagnosis is established, a woman might consult with a physician about symptoms she is experiencing, which can include irregular vaginal bleeding or discharge that occurs between menstrual periods or after menopause. The physician will generally inquire about the woman’s risk factors and family medical history, and then perform a general physical and pelvic examination.
Because this type of cancer develops inside a woman’s uterus, it is not usually detected through a routine Pap test, which collects cells from the surface of a woman’s cervix. Therefore, in order to determine whether endometrial cancer is present, the physician will need to take a small sampling of tissue from the endometrium, or inner lining of the uterus, for evaluation under a microscope.
To confirm a uterine cancer diagnosis, an endometrial tissue sample can be obtained through any of the following procedures:
- Endometrial biopsy – A thin, flexible tube is inserted into a woman’s uterus through her cervix, and suction is used to remove a small amount of endometrial tissue through the tube.
- Dilation and curettage – A woman’s cervix is dilated and a curette (small, spoon-shaped instrument) is inserted into the uterus and used to remove tissue. This diagnostic procedure may be done along with a hysteroscopy.
- Hysteroscopy – A woman’s uterus is filled with saline solution (which can help a physician view the interior more clearly) and a tiny telescope is inserted through her cervix so that a physician can look for and gather samples of suspicious cells or polyps.
The endometrial tissue samples can then be evaluated by a pathologist, who will use a microscope to determine whether cancer cells are present and, if so, confirm a uterine cancer diagnosis.
At Moffitt Cancer Center, the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center based in Florida, we perform highly focused research and innovative clinical trials, and we continue to gain ground in the diagnosis and treatment of uterine and other forms of cancer. We take pride in knowing that our patient outcomes and survival rates consistently outrank national averages, and that our patients enjoy an enhanced quality of life.