Health A-Z

Medical Content Created by the Faculty of the Harvard Medical School


What Is It?

Uterine cancer is the most common cancer of the female reproductive tract. There are two main types: endometrial cancer and uterine sarcoma.

Endometrial cancer is the most common type of uterine cancer. It occurs in the inner lining of the uterus, called the endometrium. The disease generally strikes women between the ages of 50 and 65. Its cause is not fully understood.

However, women who have high levels of the hormone estrogen that are not offset by the hormone progesterone are more likely to develop endometrial cancer. Since progesterone levels drop after menopause, postmenopausal women have a higher-than-normal risk of developing this cancer. Other women likely to have high levels of estrogen without enough progesterone include those who

  • are obese

  • have a history of infertility

  • take long-term estrogen therapy.

Other women who may also be at high risk of endometrial cancer include those with high blood pressure and diabetes, and women who take tamoxifen (Nolvadex) for the treatment of breast cancer.

Uterine sarcoma starts in the muscle and fibrous tissue that form the uterine wall. This cancer is rare. While its cause is unknown, uterine sarcoma occurs most often in middle-aged and elderly women. African American women and women who have had pelvic radiation to treat other cancers may be more likely to develop this cancer. Doctors aren't sure why.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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