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Monday, June 17, 2024

Uterine cancer rates on the rise, with Black women affected the most

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Terrisa Davis lost her mother to cervical cancer.

Davis said she and a lot of women in her life grew up not talking about what’s up down there until something was not right.

RELATED: GlaxoSmithKline renews commitment to Cervical Cancer-Free Indiana

“My mother didn’t really feel like she had to get checked since she was older, but even when she was younger, she didn’t really feel like anything was wrong. Now, I’m focused on my own vaginal health, and my doctors talk to me about uterine cancer more,” said Davis.

“You grow up with a limited understanding of the proper health care down there, and although my mother was older, these are things that I’m thinking about at my age now. You have to know what this stuff is.”

Uterine cancer is one of the only cancers with mortality rates that have increased in the last four decades, surpassing ovarian cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.

“Across the country, we’re seeing a rise in the number of new cases of endometrial cancer. That translates to Indiana as well. Endometrial cancer starts off in the uterus,” said Dr. Lisa Landrum, division director of Gynecologic Oncology at IU Health.

“The kind of hallmark sign of the first symptom of endometrial cancer is abnormal vaginal bleeding. So, primarily, it’s a disease that we see in women that are post menopause. It starts in the inner lining of the uterus, called the endometrium.”

Landrum said bleeding after menopause is not normal, and a person should go to their doctor if they notice it.

Although it is a disease that is more notable in older women, she said they are starting to see younger and younger women diagnosed.

“That’s likely due to the rising rates of obesity that we see in our country. So, there’s a clear correlation between obesity and endometrial cancer. The youngest I’ve ever seen was 21 years old,” said Landrum.

“Endometrial cancer is the primary cancer that we see, but there are others. There are what we call sarcomas of the uterus as well. Those are cancers that occur in the middle layer of the uterus. They are much more difficult to detect preoperatively than uterine cancer.”

Uterine cancer is diagnosed with a biopsy of the endometrium.

One symptom younger patients can look out for is an irregular menstrual cycle.

“For example, women that don’t ovulate regularly and don’t have regular cycles may go three or four months without a cycle, and then have a very heavy period, and then skip another three or four months; those are the type of patients we worry about,” said Landrum.

She said those symptoms can be tricky because you have younger patients who may be experiencing polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or endometriosis, but people with PCOS are at risk for uterine cancer.

Landrum said getting a regular Pap test keeps women up to date on what medical professionals can find.

“Because I don’t want to not be here, because I didn’t know, I want to break that generation health curse with my family, and I want other Black women especially to understand that they need to be aware of this,” said Davis.

Contact staff writer Jade Jackson at (317) 762-7853 or by email JadeJ@IndyRecorder.com. Follow her on Twitter @IAMJADEJACKSON. 

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