This post was developed in collaboration with Eisai Inc.
Fit, healthy and happy, my 54-year-old friend Deni wasn’t overly concerned when she noticed occasional spotting, about 15 months after what she assumed was her final period. “I felt anxious though when it became painful to pee. I was constantly bloated, and a strange pressure developed in my pelvic area,” Deni recalled.
A few months later – after finally talking to her gynecologist and undergoing a battery of tests and procedures, Deni’s ultrasound revealed an unusual thickening of her uterine wall. Tissue samples confirmed her fear. She had cancer, endometrial cancer. Before her diagnosis, Deni didn’t even know what that meant.
While many of us are aware of ovarian cancer, endometrial cancer is, in fact, the most common gynecological cancer in the United States, accounting for 90% of uterine cancer diagnoses.
The abnormal growth of cells in the lining of the uterus, endometrial cancer most commonly occurs after menopause, although it’s on the rise among women between 20 and 49 years old.
The causes of endometrial cancer are unknown, but some factors besides age that may increase a woman’s risk are obesity, family history, a high-fat diet, a lack of exercise, and a history of irregular periods. Overweight or obese women are two to four times more likely to develop this type of cancer than women with normal weights, according to the National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute. So, there’s a possible link between the rise of obesity in the United States and increasing endometrial cancer diagnoses and deaths.
Fortunately for Deni, she was pronounced cancer free following a complete hysterectomy since the malignant cells were confined to her uterus. Thousands of other women, however, aren’t so lucky. Uninformed, they may relate painful urination to a urinary tract infection, bloating with using too much salt, and occasional spotting as just another nuisance after menopause. And, unlike Deni, they don’t seek help, or they wait until it’s too late!
While 84% of white women have an overall five-year survival rate for uterine cancers, the number drops to 62% for Black women. Less likely to have health insurance and adequate access to doctors, only 53% of Black women with the condition get an early diagnosis.
Besides the symptoms Deni experienced, other symptoms can include irregular or heavy bleeding before menopause, and abnormal bleeding or a brownish discharge post menopause. Having an unpleasant discharge might embarrass a woman into silence, but knowledge empowers us to take control of our own health. While these are not all of the possible symptoms of endometrial cancer, recognizing and talking about them with our gynecologists or primary care doctors may help us spot the cancer early, when it may be more treatable.
We all know that when one woman speaks up about her symptoms, other women are encouraged to follow. FORCE (Facing Our Risk Of Cancer Empowered), SHARE Cancer Support, Black Health Matters and Eisai have partnered to launch Spot Her, an initiative to help inspire all of us to know the signs of this serious cancer, spread the word, and speak to our doctors if we’re experiencing symptoms. Not next month. Not next week. But today.
“If you have symptoms, listen to your body and don’t be afraid,” Deni stressed. “Call your doctor. The sooner, the better. If I had waited any longer to speak to mine, the outcome may have been completely different.”
Join us in our pledge to #SpotHerForEC. For the women we love. For the women we are. Visit SpotHerForEC.com for information on endometrial cancer and on the important initiative.