Summary

Key Points

  • Uterine sarcoma is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the muscles of the uterus or other tissues that support the uterus.
  • Being exposed to x-rays can increase the risk of uterine sarcoma.
  • Signs of uterine sarcoma include abnormal bleeding.
  • Tests that examine the uterus are used to detect (find) and diagnose uterine sarcoma.
  • Certain factors affect prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options.

Uterine sarcoma is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the muscles of the uterus or other tissues that support the uterus.

The uterus is part of the female reproductive system. The uterus is the hollow, pear-shaped organ in the pelvis, where a fetus grows. The cervix is at the lower, narrow end of the uterus, and leads to the vagina.

Uterine sarcoma is a very rare kind of cancer that forms in the uterine muscles or in tissues that support the uterus. (Information about other types of sarcomas can be found in the PDQ summary on Adult Soft Tissue Sarcoma Treatment.) Uterine sarcoma is different from cancer of the endometrium, a disease in which cancer cells start growing inside the lining of the uterus. (See the PDQ summary on Endometrial Cancer Treatment for information).

Risk Factors

Being exposed to x-rays can increase the risk of uterine sarcoma.

Anything that increases your risk of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer; not having risk factors doesn’t mean that you will not get cancer. Talk with your doctor if you think you may be at risk. Risk factors for uterine sarcoma include the following:

  • Past treatment with radiation therapy to the pelvis.
  • Treatment with tamoxifen for breast cancer. If you are taking this drug, have a pelvic exam every year and report any vaginal bleeding (other than menstrual bleeding) as soon as possible.

Screening and Detection

Tests that examine the uterus are used to detect (find) and diagnose uterine sarcoma.

The following tests and procedures may be used:

  • Physical exam and history: An exam of the body to check general signs of health, including checking for signs of disease, such as lumps or anything else that seems unusual. A history of the patient’s health habits and past illnesses and treatments will also be taken.
  • Pelvic exam: An exam of the vagina, cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries, and rectum. A speculum is inserted into the vagina and the doctor or nurse looks at the vagina and cervix for signs of disease. A Pap test of the cervix is usually done. The doctor or nurse also inserts one or two lubricated, gloved fingers of one hand into the vagina and places the other hand over the lower abdomen to feel the size, shape, and position of the uterus and ovaries. The doctor or nurse also inserts a lubricated, gloved finger into the rectum to feel for lumps or abnormal areas.
  • Pap test: A procedure to collect cells from the surface of the cervix and vagina. A piece of cotton, a brush, or a small wooden stick is used to gently scrape cells from the cervix and vagina. The cells are viewed under a microscope to find out if they are abnormal. This procedure is also called a Pap smear. Because uterine sarcoma begins inside the uterus, this cancer may not show up on the Pap test.
  • Transvaginal ultrasound exam: A procedure used to examine the vagina, uterus, fallopian tubes, and bladder. An ultrasound transducer (probe) is inserted into the vagina and used to bounce high-energy sound waves (ultrasound) off internal tissues or organs and make echoes. The echoes form a picture of body tissues called a sonogram. The doctor can identify tumors by looking at the sonogram.
  • Dilatation and curettage: A procedure to remove samples of tissue from the inner lining of the uterus. The cervix is dilated and a curette (spoon-shaped instrument) is inserted into the uterus to remove tissue. The tissue samples are checked under a microscope for signs of disease. This procedure is also called a D&C.
  • Endometrial biopsy: The removal of tissue from the endometrium (inner lining of the uterus) by inserting a thin, flexible tube through the cervix and into the uterus. The tube is used to gently scrape a small amount of tissue from the endometrium and then remove the tissue samples. A pathologist views the tissue under a microscope to look for cancer cells.

Signs and Symptoms

Signs of uterine sarcoma include abnormal bleeding.

Abnormal bleeding from the vagina and other signs and symptoms may be caused by uterine sarcoma or by other conditions. Check with your doctor if you have any of the following:

  • Bleeding that is not part of menstrual periods.
  • Bleeding after menopause.
  • A mass in the vagina.
  • Pain or a feeling of fullness in the abdomen.
  • Frequent urination.

Treatment Options

There are different types of treatment for patients with uterine sarcoma.

Different types of treatments are available for patients with uterine sarcoma. Some treatments are standard (the currently used treatment), and some are being tested in clinical trials. A treatment clinical trial is a research study meant to help improve current treatments or obtain information on new treatments for patients with cancer. When clinical trials show that a new treatment is better than the standard treatment, the new treatment may become the standard treatment. Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial. Some clinical trials are open only to patients who have not started treatment.

Four types of standard treatment are used:

Surgery

Surgery is the most common treatment for uterine sarcoma, as described in the Stages of Uterine Sarcoma section of this summary.

Even if the doctor removes all the cancer that can be seen at the time of the surgery, some patients may be given chemotherapy or radiation therapy after surgery to kill any cancer cells that are left. Treatment given after the surgery, to lower the risk that the cancer will come back, is called adjuvant therapy.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. There are two types of radiation therapy. External radiation therapy uses a machine outside the body to send radiation toward the cancer. Internal radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters that are placed directly into or near the cancer. The way the radiation therapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. When chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, the drugs enter the bloodstream and can reach cancer cells throughout the body (systemic chemotherapy). When chemotherapy is placed directly into the cerebrospinal fluid, an organ, or a body cavity such as the abdomen, the drugs mainly affect cancer cells in those areas (regional chemotherapy). The way the chemotherapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.

Hormone therapy

Hormone therapy is a cancer treatment that removes hormones or blocks their action and stops cancer cells from growing. Hormones are substances produced by glands in the body and circulated in the bloodstream. Some hormones can cause certain cancers to grow. If tests show the cancer cells have places where hormones can attach (receptors), drugs, surgery, or radiation therapy is used to reduce the production of hormones or block them from working.

New types of treatment are being tested in clinical trials.

Information about clinical trials is available from the NCI website.

Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial.

For some patients, taking part in a clinical trial may be the best treatment choice. Clinical trials are part of the cancer research process. Clinical trials are done to find out if new cancer treatments are safe and effective or better than the standard treatment.

Many of today's standard treatments for cancer are based on earlier clinical trials. Patients who take part in a clinical trial may receive the standard treatment or be among the first to receive a new treatment.

Patients who take part in clinical trials also help improve the way cancer will be treated in the future. Even when clinical trials do not lead to effective new treatments, they often answer important questions and help move research forward.

Patients can enter clinical trials before, during, or after starting their cancer treatment.

Some clinical trials only include patients who have not yet received treatment. Other trials test treatments for patients whose cancer has not gotten better. There are also clinical trials that test new ways to stop cancer from recurring (coming back) or reduce the side effects of cancer treatment.

Clinical trials are taking place in many parts of the country. See the Treatment Options section that follows for links to current treatment clinical trials. These have been retrieved from NCI's listing of clinical trials.

Follow-up tests may be needed.

Some of the tests that were done to diagnose the cancer or to find out the stage of the cancer may be repeated. Some tests will be repeated in order to see how well the treatment is working. Decisions about whether to continue, change, or stop treatment may be based on the results of these tests.

Some of the tests will continue to be done from time to time after treatment has ended. The results of these tests can show if your condition has changed or if the cancer has recurred (come back). These tests are sometimes called follow-up tests or check-ups.

Last Updated: 2015-07-29

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