If you get a diagnosis of uterine cancer, your doctor may tell you what stage it is. It's a way to figure out how advanced your cancer is and what kind of treatment works best.
Before your doctor decides your stage, they'll use tests, such as a biopsy and ultrasound, to find what type of uterine cancer you have. Also called the womb, the uterus is a pear-shaped organ where babies grow.
There are two kinds of uterine cancer. Endometrial cancer, the most common form, begins in the inner lining of the uterus. Uterine sarcoma is a rare type that starts in the muscles in the uterus or the surrounding tissue.
- Stage 1A: This means the cancer is in the inner lining of your uterus, called the endometrium. It may have spread less than halfway into the underlying muscle.
- Stage 1B: The cancer is in the endometrium and more than halfway through the underlying muscle.
The standard treatment is surgery called a total hysterectomy to remove the uterus and cervix, as well as the fallopian tubes and ovaries.
The surgeon may also do a pelvic washing. That's when a saltwater solution flushes your abdomen. Then it's checked for cancer cells.
For some women, surgery may be enough. But if you have bigger tumors or a fast-spreading cancer, you may need more treatment. Tiny cancer cells may have spread outside the uterus. To avoid a return of your cancer, you may need treatments like radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or vaginal brachytherapy, which delivers radioactive material to cancer cells.
If you have stage 1A endometrial cancer and still want to have children, you may be able to use progestin therapy. These hormones may help the cancer shrink or go away for a period so you can become pregnant. This option can be dangerous if you aren't watched closely. There's a risk that the hormones don't work and the cancer will spread.
In most cases, you'll get surgery called radical hysterectomy to remove your uterus, the tissues next to it, and the upper part of your vagina. The surgeon may also remove your fallopian tubes and ovaries. You may also need radiation therapy or vaginal brachytherapy.
- Stage IIIA: Cancer is in the outer layer of your uterus or the fallopian tubes and ovaries.
- Stage IIIB: It has spread to the tissues around the uterus or vagina.
- Stage IIIC1: The cancer has spread outside of the uterus and to the pelvic lymph nodes.
- Stage IIIC2: Cancer cells are inside the body of the uterus and the lymph nodes around the aorta.
If your doctor thinks that the cancer can be taken out with surgery, a surgeon may do a total or radical hysterectomy and remove your fallopian tubes and ovaries. They may also do a pelvic washing. This is followed by chemotherapy or radiation.
If the surgeon thinks that your cancer is too widespread, you may get radiation. This may help shrink the tumor enough for surgery.
- Stage IVA: The cancer has spread to the bladder or rectum, and possibly nearby lymph nodes.
- Stage IVB: It's found in the upper abdomen, the fat that supports your lower abdomen (called the omentum), or organs like your lungs, liver, and bones. It may have spread to the groin lymph nodes.
For most people with stage IV endometrial cancer, the cancer has spread too far for a surgeon to remove it all, but you may still get surgery similar to the kind in earlier stages, as well as radiation, to keep you from bleeding too much.
Hormone therapy, targeted therapy, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy may also help. Talk to your doctor about whether it's a good idea for you to join clinical trial, where researchers are studying new treatments that aren't yet available to everyone.