What Is Endometrial Cancer?

Endometrial cancer is a cancer that starts in the endometrium, the inner lining of the uterus (womb). The picture below shows where the uterus is located.

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About the uterus and endometrium

The uterus is a hollow organ, about the size and shape of a medium-sized pear. The uterus is where a fetus grows and develops when a woman is pregnant. The uterus has 2 main parts (see picture above). The lower end of the uterus extends into the vagina and is called the cervix. The upper part of the uterus is called the body and is also known as the corpus. (Corpus is the Latin word for body.

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The body of the uterus has 2 layers. The inner layer or lining is called the endometrium. The outer layer of muscle is known as the myometrium. This thick layer of muscle is needed to push the baby out during birth. The tissue coating the outside of the uterus is the serosa.

Hormone changes during a woman’s menstrual cycle cause the endometrium to change. During the early part of the cycle, before the ovaries release an egg (ovulation), the ovaries produce estrogens. The hormone called estrogen causes the endometrium to thicken so that it could nourish an embryo if pregnancy occurs. If there is no pregnancy, estrogen is produced in lower amounts and more of the hormone called progesterone is made after ovulation. This causes the innermost layer of the lining to prepare to shed. By the end of the cycle, the endometrial lining is shed from the uterus and becomes the menstrual flow (period). This cycle repeats throughout a woman’s life until menopause (change of life).

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