And because excess fatty tissue can produce additional estrogen, obese women are dramatically more likely to develop endometrial cancer, Dr. Brawley said. Those who take estrogen without progesterone are also at an increased risk for developing the cancer, he added. To manage that risk, when doctors prescribe estrogen to manage hot flashes, they should also prescribe progesterone, he said.
Diabetes and high blood pressure are also risk factors, said Dr. Ginger Gardner, a gynecologic oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. And, as with many other forms of cancer, family history can play a role, she added. Women whose family members have been diagnosed with uterine cancer should be particularly vigilant about monitoring for symptoms.
What are the early symptoms to watch for?
Abnormal bleeding is the most common symptom of uterine cancer, Dr. Brawley said, especially for women who have gone through menopause. Dr. Gardner said if you experience vaginal bleeding after not getting a period for a year or more, even light pink or brown spotting or staining when you wipe, you should talk to your gynecologist.
For younger women, a change in bleeding pattern — including bleeding between periods and heavy bleeding in general — can be a symptom of uterine cancer, she added.
Dr. Andrea Jackson, an obstetrician and gynecologist at the University of California, San Francisco who specializes in providing care for Black patients, said that patients often overlook those changes in bleeding patterns. Anecdotally, she said her Black patients, in particular, often don’t see it as a cause for concern, partly because many have concurrent conditions like fibroids, which can also cause spotting.
Skipping periods can also be a sign of concern, she said. If you skip a period for any amount of time and are not menopausal or on hormonal contraception, you should speak with a gynecologist.
Other early symptoms of uterine cancer include pelvic pain or pressure. Patients might experience bloating or changes in their bowel habits, which could look like constipation or diarrhea, Dr. Hinchcliff said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends seeing your doctor if symptoms persist for two weeks or longer.