A cancer doctor shares 4 easy-to-miss signs of endometrial cancer you should know
- Endometrial cancer can have varied symptoms which may be misdiagnosed as other illnesses.
- Digestive issues, bloating, and abnormal pelvic pain or bleeding are all reason to seek medical care.
Endometrial cancer, which affects the lining of the uterus, is the most common cancer of female reproductive organs, with more than 65,000 cases diagnosed in the US every year, according to the American Cancer Society.
Also called uterine cancer, it can be tricky to spot early on, according to Dr. Eleonora Teplinsky, head of breast medical oncology at Valley Health System and clinical assistant professor of medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine, Mount Sinai.
"A lot of times symptoms are vague and can be attributed to other things because people's minds don't jump to cancer right away," Teplinsky told Insider.
As a result, she often sees patients who are misdiagnosed or wait too long to seek care. Symptoms can vary, and anything that feels "off" for a prolonged period of time is reason to talk with a doctor, she said.
Here are some of the most common indications of endometrial cancer:
Unusual vaginal bleeding is a red flag
The most common early sign of endometrial cancer is vaginal bleeding or spotting outside the normal menstrual period, according to Teplinsky.
Most endometrial cancer occurs among people aged to 70, so post-menopausal bleeding is a frequent warning sign, although it may not always indicate cancer.
However, irregular bleeding can be cause for concern in younger people who continue to have menstrual periods, too.
"The key is to not ignore that bleeding, which is what lots of people will do," Teplinsky said. "When something doesn't feel right in your body, that isn't normal, get it checked out."
Pelvic pain or pain during intercourse is reason for a check-up
Endometrial cancer can also present as pain in the pelvic area, which can feel vague enough that it may be ignored, Teplinsky said.
"We don't always associate that with cancer, but anything that just feels off should be evaluated," she said.
Painful sex, or bleeding afterward, is worth getting checked out, even if you suspect it may be due to other causes, such as vaginal dryness, she said.
A sense of bloating or strange fullness shouldn't be ignored
Gynecological cancers can sometimes also cause unexplained weight gain or bloating, or unusual full feelings.
Not all bloating or uncomfortable fullness is indicative of cancer. However, in the absence of other explanations, like overeating or consuming something that doesn't agree with you, it's worth making a doctor's appointment.
"If you're taking a few bites of food and feel too full to keep eating, that's not normal" Teplinsky said.
Symptoms that persist for two to three weeks are reason to seek care, particularly if they worsen over time.
Nausea or GI issues can sometimes indicate later-stage gynecological cancer
One factor that makes endometrial and other reproductive cancers hard to detect is that they're sometimes mistaken for gastrointestinal issues, including acid reflux or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and other digestive upset are easy to misinterpret, Teplinsky said.
The same symptoms could also point to other types of gynecological cancers, which may not be symptomatic until they've begun to spread.
"It can be very hard to distinguish what we're dealing with without imaging so it's important to come in," she said.
If you have risk factors for cancer, such as diabetes, obesity, or high blood pressure, pay attention to any changes with your health.
"The biggest things are knowing your risk, knowing what the symptoms are and really listening to your body and advocating for yourself," Teplinsky said. "It's very easy to write off these symptoms as something else, but if they don't go away, you need to get checked out."
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