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What is cancer of the uterus?

Cancer of the uterus occurs when cells become abnormal and start growing and multiplying out of control. It is also known as uterine cancer and can begin in cells in the:

  • lining of the uterus (endometrium)
  • muscle tissue (myometrium)
  • connective tissue (stroma) that supports the endometrium.

What are the different types?

Uterine cancer can be either endometrial cancer (around 95% of all uterine cancers) or the less common uterine sarcoma.

Endometrial cancers

Most cancers of the uterus begin in the lining of the uterus (endometrium) and are called endometrial cancers. There are two main types:

type 1 cancers (linked to an excess of oestrogen)Usually called endometrioid cancer, type 1 cancers are the most common endometrial cancers. In most cases, they are adenocarcinomas, which start in the glandular cells of the endometrium. Type 1 cancers are usually slow growing and less likely to spread. They typically require less intensive treatment.
type 2 cancers (not linked to oestrogen)Type 2 cancers are much less common. They include uterine carcinosarcomas (also known as malignant mixed Müllerian tumours), serous carcinomas and clear cell carcinomas. They grow faster than type 1 cancers and are more likely to spread. Treatment usually involves more extensive surgery followed by radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

Uterine sarcomas

These are rare soft tissue sarcomas that develop in the muscle of the uterus (myometrium) or the connective tissue (stroma) that supports the endometrium. There are three types: endometrial stromal sarcoma is a low-grade, slow-growing tumour, while leiomyosarcoma and undifferentiated sarcoma are usually faster growing and may be more likely to spread to other parts of the body.

How common is it?

Uterine cancer is the fifth most common cancer in women and the most commonly diagnosed gynaecological cancer in Australia. Each year, about 2700 Australian women are diagnosed with uterine cancer, and most are over 50. About one in 60 women is likely to have uterine cancer by the age of 75.

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Understanding Cancer of the Uterus

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This information is reviewed by

This information was last reviewed March 2019 by the following expert content reviewers: A/Prof Alison Brand, Director, Gynaecological Oncology, Westmead Hospital, NSW; Kate Barber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Victoria; Prof Jonathan Carter, Director, Gynaecological Oncology, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, NSW; Dr Robyn Cheuk, Senior Radiation Oncologist, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, QLD; Dr Alison Davis, Medical Oncologist, Canberra Region Cancer Centre, The Canberra Hospital, ACT; Kim Hobbs, Clinical Specialist Social Worker, Westmead Hospital, NSW; Nicole Kinnane, Nurse Coordinator, Gynaecology Oncology, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Jennifer Loveridge, Consumer; Pauline Tanner, Gynaecology Cancer Nurse Coordinator, WA Cancer & Palliative Care Network, North Metropolitan Health Service, WA.