HomeHealthEndometrial cancer risk higher among middle-aged women —Experts

Endometrial cancer risk higher among middle-aged women —Experts

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Amarachi Okeh

A Professor of Radiation Medicine at the College of Medicine, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Ifeoma Okoye, says that most cases of endometrial cancer occur among middle-aged women.

Recall that recently, a veteran actress, Ify Onwuemene, passed on after a long battle with endometrial cancer.

A post by actress Gloria Anozie-Young announcing the death of the actress partly reads, “Ify Onwuemene was diagnosed with endometrial cancer. Her womb was removed, but she has been battling the ailment for many years now.

“In 2019, even after eight sessions of chemotherapy, the doctors told her that she had reached Stage 4. However, we are not sure if she was given the wrong diagnosis or treated with the wrong chemo, because she still felt pains in her upper abdomen and her tummy became bloated…”

Speaking with PUNCH HealthWise, Prof. Okoye said that women 45 years of age and above are at risk of endometrial cancer and that the average age of occurrence is 60 years, while women between the ages of 50 to 70 are at increased risk.

Endometrial cancer starts when cells in the endometrium (the inner lining of the uterus) start to grow out of control. Endometrial cancer is sometimes called uterine cancer, experts say.

This type of cancer is different from cervical cancer.

Endometrial cancer has four stages and, according to the American Cancer Society, “as a rule, the lower the number, the less the cancer has spread. A higher number, such as Stage IV, means the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.”

“Surgery is the main treatment for most women with this cancer. But in some cases, more than one kind of treatment may be used. The choice of treatment depends largely on the type of cancer and stage of the disease when it’s found,” ACS also said.

According to experts, a key sign of the cancer is abnormal vaginal bleeding, such as bleeding after menopause or bleeding between periods. Other symptoms may include pelvic pain and pain during sex, but some women experience no symptoms at all.

Also speaking, an oncologist at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Ikeja, Dr. Ephraim Ohazuruike, said that the best way to tackle endometrial cancer is the removal of the womb at the early stage to avoid the spread of the cancer.

“Staging is very important. The earlier the stage, the better. But it’s a function of a lot of things: the type of cancer, what molecule is driving it, and all that. So, it’s not just one thing that you consider.

“That is why, when someone is suspected to have any type of cancer, it is better that the person is managed by an oncologist,” Ohazuruike said.

He, however, added that it’s not enough to remove the womb. “Patient must go for other tests before the physician can conclusively say that all the cancer has been removed, while the patient might still need to take further treatment.”

Prof. Okoye also said that if endometrial cancer is discovered early, it is curable and that the cure is the removal of the womb.

“Yes, if discovered early, endometrial cancer is curable. It has different stages. Stage 1 is curable. The removal of the womb at the early stage guarantees cure,” she said

Speaking on the symptoms of endometrial cancer, Dr. Ohazuruike said that the commonest symptom is bleeding and commoner in people who are menopausal.

“Unfortunately, there is no screening test to tell if someone is about to develop endometrial cancer; but many times, when some women start bleeding, they attribute it to their menses so they don’t come to the hospital until it’s too late.

“So, if a woman who is post-menopausal starts bleeding, it’s not her menses that is coming back. She has to get checked,” the doctor advised.

Okoye suggested that, in addition, women should be on the lookout for abnormal vaginal discharge, abdominal/pelvic pain, unexplained weight loss and urinary symptoms, etc.

Both health experts stressed that post-menopausal bleeding is the commonest and earliest sign of endometrial cancer.

Speaking further, Okoye listed some risk factors of endometrial cancer to include early menarche (starting your period or monthly cycles before the age of 12), late menopause (stopping your period or monthly cycles later than the age of 55), hormonal therapy (e.g., tamoxifen), Lynch 2 syndrome (inherited colon cancer syndrome) and nulliparity (never ever being pregnant).

She emphasised that the factors are mostly risks that a woman has no control over!”

Ohazuruike added that women who are overweight and women who have polycystic ovarian syndrome are predisposed to endometrial cancer.

There is no way to prevent endometrial cancer, experts say; noting, however, that there are things one can do to reduce the risks.

They include healthy lifestyle, healthy dietary habit, as well as exercise.

Asked if endometrial cancer is common among Nigerian women, Prof. Okoye said, “It is more common among high social class women in Nigeria and it accounts for about four to 11 per cent of all genital tract malignancies in Nigeria.”

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