What is womb cancer?
Womb cancer is sometimes called uterine cancer by doctors as uterus is the medical name for the womb. You may also hear it called endometrial cancer. The endometrium is the lining of the womb. Endometrial cancer is the most common type of womb cancer.
If you are looking for information about cancer of the neck of the womb (cervix), this is not the right section for you. We have a separate section about cervical cancer.
The womb and reproductive system
The womb is part of a woman’s reproductive system. It is the pear shaped muscular organ that holds and protects a growing baby during pregnancy. It is hollow a bit like a bag. The reproductive system is made up of the:
- womb (uterus)
- neck of the womb (the cervix)
- fallopian tubes
This video shows more detail about the female reproductive system. It lasts for 1 minute and 50 seconds.
The female reproductive system includes a number of parts. The ovaries hold the eggs which are released each month during child bearing age. They also produce sex hormones which control periods. The fallopian tubes connect the ovaries to the womb (also called the uterus).
When an egg is released it travels down the fallopian tube towards the womb. At this time, sperm from the male can pass into the fallopian tube where it may meet the egg and fertilise it. Fertilised eggs pass down the fallopian tube to the womb, which holds and protects the baby during pregnancy. The lining of the womb is called the endometrium. It thickens during the menstrual cycle ready for pregnancy. If you don’t become pregnant you have a period which is when the lining sheds.
The cervix is the lower part of the womb. It is the opening into the vagina. During a period or menstruation blood passes from the womb through the cervix and then to the vagina. The vagina also opens and expands during sexual intercourse and stretches during childbirth to allow a baby to come out.
On the outside of the body is the vulva. It is made up of two pairs of lips. Between these is the opening of the vagina. Above the vagina is the urethra: a short tube that carries urine from the bladder to outside of the body and above the urethra is the clitoris: a very sensitive area that gives sexual pleasure.
For more information about cancers that can start in the female reproductive system, go to cruk.org/cancer-types
Where does womb cancer start?
Most womb cancers start in specific cells in the womb lining, the endometrium. Most endometrial cancers are adenocarcinomas.
Adeno means that the cells that have become cancerous are the cells of glandular tissue. So for the most common type of womb cancer, the cancer is in the glands of the endometrium. Carcinoma means that the cancer has started in a surface or lining layer of cells (the epithelium).
How common is womb cancer?
Around 9,700 women are diagnosed with womb cancer in the UK each year. This makes it the 4th most common cancer in women in the UK.
Who gets it?
Most people who develop womb cancer are older women. It's much less common in those younger than 40.