Uterine cancer starts in the uterus. Doctors can order several tests, including blood and imaging tests, to diagnose and monitor the progression of this cancer.

Cancer can form in two parts of the uterus: the inner and outer layers.

When this disease forms in the inner layer, doctors call this endometrial cancer. It is the most common type of uterine cancer.

Cancer that forms in the muscular outer layer of the uterus is known as uterine sarcoma and is much rarer.

Doctors may order different tests to diagnose and monitor uterine cancer, including blood tests, uterine biopsies, ultrasound scanning, and imaging tests.

Read on to learn more about uterine cancer testing.

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Two types of blood tests can help diagnose and monitor uterine cancer: a complete blood count and the CA-125 blood test.

Complete blood count

A complete blood count (CBC) measures several cell types in the blood, including white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets, to check for abnormalities.

Uterine cancer can cause atypical bleeding, resulting in a low red blood cell count.

CA-125 blood test

CA-125 is a protein that most endometrial cancers release into the body.

Testing for CA-125 is not necessary for a uterine cancer diagnosis.

However, if someone with a uterine cancer diagnosis has very high levels of CA-125 in their blood, this may indicate that the disease has spread outside the uterus.

Some doctors may also take CA-125 measurements before and after treatment for uterine cancer. If the previously elevated levels decrease, it can be a reliable indicator that treatment is working.

A uterine biopsy is the most common test for uterine cancer and involves taking a tissue sample from the uterus.

By carefully inserting a small brush, tube, or curette through the cervix and into the uterus, a doctor can remove a small amount of tissue to check for cancer cells.

During the procedure, the person may experience discomfort similar to menstrual cramps. Sometimes, a doctor may inject a local anesthetic into the person’s cervix before the procedure to numb the area.

Ultrasound involves using a transducer to produce images inside a person’s body. Sound waves from the transducer create echoes that bounce off the inside of the body. A computer program then converts these echoes into images.

Doctors use two types of ultrasound procedures to diagnose uterine cancer: a pelvic ultrasound and a transvaginal ultrasound.

The images can help doctors determine whether the endometrium is thicker than usual, which may indicate the presence of endometrial cancer, and check for tumors in the endometrium or myometrium.

Pelvic ultrasound

During a pelvic ultrasound, a doctor gently moves the transducer over the lower part of a person’s torso toward the pelvis.

A full bladder helps produce clearer pictures of the uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes, so a doctor will ask the person to drink a lot of water before the procedure.

Transvaginal ultrasound

A transvaginal ultrasound works like a pelvic ultrasound, but the transducer goes into the vagina.

Doctors may use the following imaging tests to check whether cancer has spread beyond the uterus:

CT scan

Doctors use CT scans to see whether a person’s cancer has spread or returned after treatment.

MRI scan

Some doctors believe that MRI scans are a suitable way of seeing if and how much a person’s cancer has spread into the endometrium.

PET scan

PET scans can help highlight cancer cells inside a person’s body. However, this type of scan is unnecessary when diagnosing endometrial cancer.

Doctors may use PET scans in people with advanced stages of cancer.

Chest X-ray

In some cases, a doctor will use a standard chest X-ray to see if a person’s cancer has spread to the lungs.

People typically go to the gynecologist with uterine cancer-related symptoms. In addition to a physical exam, including a pelvic exam, the doctor will likely order tests to determine the underlying cause of symptoms.

Testing may vary depending on:

  • the symptoms a person has
  • the person’s medical history
  • any risk factors the person has

If a person has symptoms or risk factors, the gynecologist may perform a uterine biopsy or a transvaginal ultrasound.

These tests can help diagnose uterine cancer or eliminate it as a possible cause. Additional testing may be necessary if the initial tests do not provide enough information for a diagnosis.

Diagnosis of uterine cancer also involves staging the cancer, depending on whether the cancer has spread or not.

A person should contact a doctor if they experience any of the following symptoms:

  • atypical vaginal bleeding, such as bleeding between periods, after sex, or after menopause
  • atypical vaginal discharge
  • pelvic pain or pressure
  • feeling a mass or lump
  • unintentional weight loss

It is important to remember that these symptoms may result from conditions other than uterine cancer. However, speaking with a doctor for evaluation is best since early diagnosis can improve a person’s likelihood of recovery.

A person may also want to consult a gynecologist more frequently if they have risk factors for uterine cancer, such as:

  • taking estrogen
  • using tamoxifen
  • having the hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer gene
  • never having given birth
  • experiencing menopause at an older age
  • starting menstruation at a young age
  • having close relatives with a diagnosis of endometrial or colorectal cancer
  • having previously had breast or ovarian cancer
  • having previously had endometrial hyperplasia
  • having previously undergone pelvic radiation therapy
  • having a history of polycystic ovary syndrome
  • having diabetes or obesity

Doctors use various tests to diagnose and monitor uterine cancer.

What tests a doctor chooses depends on several factors, including whether someone has risk factors for uterine cancer.

If a person is experiencing symptoms, such as atypical uterine bleeding, and believes they are at risk of uterine cancer, they should make an appointment with a doctor.