Uterine cancer in the lungs occurs when cancer cells from your uterus travel to your lungs. It is also known as metastatic uterine cancer or recurrent uterine cancer.

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If cancer cells from the uterus travel to the lungs, it’s considered uterine cancer in the lungs. When cancer moves from one location of your body to another, it’s known as metastasis. Uterine cancer that has metastasized to the lungs is still considered uterine cancer because the cancer cell originated in the uterus.

Uterine cancer in the lungs is also called metastatic uterine cancer or recurrent uterine cancer.

Here, we’ll take a closer look at uterine cancer in the lungs, including symptoms, causes, treatment, and outlook.

There are two types of uterine cancer that can spread or metastasize to your lungs: uterine sarcoma, which is cancer that begins in the muscle wall of your uterus, and endometrial cancer, which is cancer that begins in the lining of your uterus.

Endometrial cancer is much more common than uterine sarcoma, and most uterine cancer that spreads to the lungs is endometrial cancer.

Cancer in the lungs can develop in people who have stage 4 uterine cancer and in people whose uterine cancer has recurred (come back) and traveled to the lungs. Among people with stage 4 endometrial cancer, the lung is the most common site for metastasis.

The chances of uterine cancer spreading to the lungs is low — it happens approximately 1.5% of the time. Most people with uterine cancer are diagnosed when the cancer is at stage 1, and they don’t experience metastasis.

When uterine cancer has spread to your lungs, you may not have symptoms at first. When you do have symptoms, you may experience:

  • shortness of breath
  • a cough that won’t go away, unrelated to illness
  • chest pain and pressure
  • labored breathing
  • signs of fluid around the lungs
  • lack of appetite
  • unusual weight loss

Experts aren’t sure what causes uterine cancer, why it sometimes spreads to other organs, or why it can recur even after remission. But, there are certain factors that may increase a person’s risk of developing uterine cancer, including hormonal imbalances and obesity.

Endometrial cancer cells have receptors for hormones such as estrogen and progesterone, and it’s been theorized that interactions between these receptors and hormones cause cancer cells to grow. It’s also possible that changes in the DNA of specific genes increase a person’s risk of cancer.

Anyone can get uterine cancer that spreads to the lungs, but certain factors may put you at increased risk, including:

  • factors that affect hormone levels, such as the use of birth control pills, hormone replacement therapy for menopause, whether or not you’ve been pregnant, history of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), or history of ovarian tumors
  • obesity
  • type 2 diabetes
  • being less physically active
  • a high-fat diet
  • use of IUD birth control
  • history of breast or ovarian cancer
  • history of endometrial hyperplasia (too thick endometrial lining)
  • history of radiation therapy to treat other cancers
  • family history of uterine cancer

Besides the initial symptoms, such as cough and trouble breathing, uterine cancer in the lungs can continue to progress if it’s not treated and cause further complications. These may include:

  • extreme fatigue
  • coughing up blood
  • inability to eat and extreme weight loss
  • intolerance for physical activity
  • electrolyte imbalances (because of nausea and vomiting)
  • vomiting
  • superior vena cava syndrome (blocked blood flow to superior vena cava)
  • digital clubbing (deformity of fingers and toes)
  • needing to use supplemental oxygen

If you have stage 4 uterine cancer that has spread to your lungs, or recurrent uterine cancer in your lungs, you’ll receive treatment tailored to your specific cancer and attributes of cancer, such as where and how it’s spreading.

Some of the options for treating uterine cancer in the lungs include:

  • surgery to remove cancer tissue if there’s a single lesion in your lung
  • radiation and chemotherapy therapy to kill cancer cells
  • hormone therapy, if your cancer has progesterone or estrogen receptors
  • immunotherapy, which teaches your immune system to recognize and kill cancer cells
  • targeted drugs, which make changes to cancer cells to decrease their growth

Many people with uterine cancer in the lungs take part in clinical trials for new cancer treatments that might help their cancer.

The outlook for people with uterine cancer in the lungs varies widely and is affected by factors such as how much the cancer has spread and how the cancer responds to treatment. People with uterine cancer in the lungs usually have a higher survival rate than individuals with uterine cancer that has spread to other organs in the body.

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), the 5-year relative survival rate for endometrial cancer — the most common type of uterine cancer — that hasn’t spread (localized) is 96%. When cancer has spread regionally, the rate is 72%, and when cancer has spread to more distant areas of the body, the rate is 20%.

If your care team suspects that your uterine cancer has spread to your lungs, they will run several tests to diagnose the issue. These tests may include:

  • blood tests to look for cancer markers
  • chest X-rays
  • computed tomography (CT) of your chest
  • positron emission tomography (PET) scans

If a tumor or cancer cells are found in your lungs, a biopsy may need to be performed to determine if the tumor is made of uterine cancer cells or is a kind of primary lung cancer (lung cancer that originated in your lungs).

The majority of uterine cancers are localized in the uterus. But when uterine cancer spreads or when it comes back after treatment and then spreads, you might have uterine cancer in your lungs. This is different from primary lung cancer, which originates in your lungs.

Uterine cancer in your lungs is serious, but there are many treatment options, and research continues for new ways to treat this condition. If you have further concerns about uterine cancer in your lungs, or about uterine cancer overall, please speak with a healthcare professional.