- Endometrial cancer can have a variety of symptoms that can be misdiagnosed as other diseases.
- Digestive problems, bloating, and abnormal pelvic pain or bleeding are all reasons to seek medical attention.
- People with risk factors such as diabetes and high blood pressure should be especially aware of the symptoms.
Endometrial cancer, which affects the lining of the uterus, is the most common cancer of the female reproductive organs, with more than 65,000 cases diagnosed in the U.S. each year, according to American Cancer Society.
Also called uterine cancer, it can be difficult to detect early, according to Dr. Eleonora Teplinskichief 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 the symptoms are vague and can be attributed to other things because people’s minds don’t immediately jump to cancer,” Teplinsky told Insider.
As a result, he often sees patients who are misdiagnosed or wait too long to seek care. Symptoms can vary, and anything that feels “off” for an extended period of time is reason to talk to a doctor, she said.
Here are some of the more common signs of endometrial cancer:
Unusual vaginal bleeding is a red flag
The most common early sign of endometrial cancer is vaginal bleeding or spotting outside of your regular period, according to Teplinsky.
Most endometrial cancer occurs in people under the age of 70, so bleeding after menopause is a common warning sign, although it may not always indicate cancer.
However, irregular bleeding can also be a concern for younger people who continue to menstruate.
“The key is not to ignore that bleeding, which a lot of people will do,” Teplinsky said. “When something doesn’t feel right in your body, that’s not normal, get it checked out.”
Pelvic pain or pain during intercourse is a reason for a checkup
Endometrial cancer can also present as pain in the pelvic area, which can be vague enough to be ignored, Teplinsky said.
“We don’t always associate that with cancer, but anything that feels like it should just be evaluated,” he 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 feeling of bloating or strange fullness should not be ignored
Gynecological cancers can also sometimes cause unexplained weight gain or bloating or unusual feelings of fullness.
Not all bloating or uncomfortable fullness is indicative of cancer. However, in the absence of other explanations, such as overeating or eating something that does not agree with you, it is worth making an appointment with a doctor.
“If you take 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 a reason to seek care, especially if they worsen over time.
Nausea or gastrointestinal problems can sometimes indicate later-stage gynecological cancer
One factor that makes endometrial and other reproductive cancers difficult to detect is that they are sometimes confused with gastrointestinal problems, including acid reflux or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and other digestive disorders are easy to misinterpret, Teplinsky said.
The same symptoms could also indicate other types of gynecological cancers, which may not be symptomatic until they begin to spread.
“It can be very hard to tell what we’re dealing with without imaging, so it’s important to get in,” he said.
If you have cancer risk factors, such as diabetes, obesity, or high blood pressure, pay attention to any changes in 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 these symptoms off as something else, but if they don’t go away, you need to get checked out.”