Uterine cancer often causes abnormal vaginal bleeding. There’s no universal uterine cancer bleeding pattern to be on alert for, and not everyone experiencing irregular vaginal bleeding has uterine cancer.
Uterine cancer is a type of gynecological cancer. It’s a term used interchangeably with endometrial cancer because the majority of uterine cancers begin in endometrial cells, which are the cells that make up the inner lining of your uterus.
Cancer isn’t restricted to the endometrial lining. Uterine cancer that starts in the muscle or supportive tissue is called uterine sarcoma. It’s much less common than cancer in the endometrium but is also a type of uterine cancer.
It’s natural to worry about cancer if you notice changes to your typical menstrual pattern, but irregular bleeding before, during, or after a menstrual cycle is common.
That doesn’t mean irregular bleeding should be ignored. While menstrual changes can be attributed to benign conditions such as stress, hormone changes, and excessive exercise, vaginal bleeding can also be a symptom of uterine cancer.
You’ll notice that the language used to share stats and other data points is pretty binary with the use of “women.”
Although we typically avoid language like this, specificity is key when reporting on research participants and clinical findings.
Unfortunately, the studies and surveys referenced in this article didn’t report data on, or include, participants who were transgender, nonbinary, gender nonconforming, genderqueer, agender, or genderless.
But not everyone who experiences irregular uterine bleeding has cancer.
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Uterine cancer bleeding can be different for everyone. You may experience it before or after menstruation, for example, or you may notice it as changes during menstruation, such as a heavier flow.
Uterine cancer bleeding patterns can include:
- spotting before or after menstruation
- heavy flow
- unusually colored blood
- prolonged menstruation
- discharge streaked with blood
- blood clots
What color is uterine cancer-related blood?
There’s no specific color that definitively indicates uterine cancer blood. Some people experience no color changes, while others may notice blood so light it appears pink.
Bleeding can also appear in a mixture of vaginal discharge. It might look like clear liquid with bright red streaks or be pinkish in a mixture of white or opaque fluids.
How much bleeding indicates uterine cancer?
In general, uterine cancer bleeding patterns include any excess of blood, either during menstruation or before and after it.
It’s not so much the volume of irregular blood flow as it is the timing that may offer insight into uterine cancer risk.
Extra bleeding is especially notable if you’ve already entered menopause and don’t typically experience menstruation at all.
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The tissue of your endometrium is abundant with blood vessels. Its natural purpose is to provide a nutrient-dense location for the implantation of an embryo, and for this reason, it’s well-supplied with blood.
It’s also on a biological timer. During your menstrual cycle, the endometrial lining naturally thickens in anticipation of pregnancy. When it doesn’t happen, the top layer of cells sloughs off and is expelled from your body, along with blood, through the vaginal canal.
This process is what causes you to menstruate.
When cancer grows in your uterus, especially the endometrial lining, it causes abnormal cell growth that can mimic the natural thickening of the uterine lining.
This can cue the body to shed cells prematurely. Similarly to a natural period, the end result is vaginal bleeding.
This is only one potential cause of excess bleeding from uterine cancer.
Cancer itself can naturally cause bleeding in your body if it invades nearby major blood vessels, damages the vessels around it, or develops its own fragile, leaky blood supply.
Because the uterus has an external outlet that allows bleeding to exit your body, the blood from compromised vessels can appear as irregular vaginal bleeding.
Irregular uterine cancer bleeding patterns are the most common symptom of uterine cancer, but they aren’t the only symptom.
Other symptoms associated with uterine cancer include:
- pelvic pain or feeling of pressure
- unexplained weight loss
- irregular nonbloody discharge
- urinary incontinence
- pelvic organ prolapse
If uterine cancer spreads beyond your uterus, you may notice additional symptoms,
- muscle weakness
- visual changes
You may be more likely to develop uterine cancer if you:
- have obesity
- live with other conditions that affect hormone levels, such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- have experienced pelvic radiation therapy
- have received a previous diagnosis of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, or endometrial hyperplasia
- are older in age
- eat a high fat diet
- are physically inactive
- live with type 2 diabetes
If you’re trying to preserve your fertility, a doctor may recommend nonsurgical therapies such as progestin treatment, but these are unlikely to improve your cancer or prevent its spread.
When surgery takes place, a doctor removes your uterus using traditional open abdominal methods or laparoscopic techniques. When cancer is caught early and you’re well before the standard age of menopause, your ovaries may be left to help prevent the hormone challenges that can come from a full hysterectomy.
During surgery, the doctor may wish to check for evidence of cancer spread. This can be done by sampling lymph nodes or conducting a peritoneal (i.e., pelvic) wash, which is then tested in the laboratory for the presence of abnormal cells.
After your procedure, follow-up care with chemotherapy or radiation therapy is often necessary to help prevent cancer from returning.
With treatment, the overall 5-year relative survival rate for uterine cancer is
Uterine cancer, commonly referred to as endometrial cancer, includes cancer of the endometrial lining and cancer of the muscle and supportive tissues of your uterus.
While there’s no specific uterine cancer bleeding pattern that can warn you of this condition, irregular vaginal bleeding is the most common symptom and occurs in up to 90% of cases.
Uterine cancer can affect people experiencing premenopause, perimenopause, and postmenopause and can include symptoms of pelvic pain, unexplained weight loss, and pelvic organ prolapse.
Surgery is the primary treatment for uterine cancer, regardless of its stage.