If your healthcare provider thinks you might have endometrial cancer, you will need certain exams and tests to be sure. Endometrial cancer is cancer that starts in the lining of the uterus (endometrium). Diagnosing endometrial cancer starts with your healthcare provider asking you questions. He or she will ask about your health history, your symptoms, risk factors, and family history of disease. Your healthcare provider will also give you a physical exam. This will include a pelvic exam.
Diagnosis may be done by a gynecologist. Or you may see a gynecologic oncologist. These healthcare providers specialize in treating cancers and other diseases of the female reproductive organs.
You may have one or more of the following tests:
Transvaginal ultrasound (ultrasonography)
Dilation and curettage (D&C)
An ultrasound test uses sound waves to create images on a computer screen. It’s done with a small wand called a transducer that’s placed in the vagina. The test creates pictures of the uterus. Ultrasound can show tumors and can be used to measure the thickness of the endometrium. The healthcare provider may do a biopsy if the endometrium looks too thick.
Sometimes a small tube is used to fill the uterus with salt water before doing the ultrasound. This may be called a hysterosonogram or a saline infusion sonogram. The saline helps the healthcare provider get a better image of any changes in the lining of the uterus.
A biopsy is when small pieces of tissue are taken and looked at with a microscope. A biopsy is the only way to confirm cancer. An endometrial tissue sample is collected by using a small flexible tube that is put into the uterus. Suction is used to pull out the tissue. The tissue sample is examined to see if there are cancer cells or other abnormal cells in it. This biopsy is often done in a healthcare provider’s office. It may also be done during a D&C.
Your healthcare provider may recommend a D&C if an endometrial biopsy is not possible or more information is needed. This is a minor surgery in which the cervix is opened (dilated). The cervical canal and uterine lining are then scraped with a spoon-shaped tool called a curette. A pathologist looks at the tissue for cancer cells. Sometimes your healthcare provider will use a thin, telescope-like tube to look into the uterus at the same time. This is called a hysteroscopy.
When your healthcare provider has the results of your tests, he or she will talk with you about next steps. Your provider will talk with you about other tests you may need if endometrial cancer is found. This may include repeating the biopsy or more tests. Make sure you understand the results and what follow-up you need.