If uterine cancer is diagnosed, your doctor needs to learn the extent (stage) of the disease to help you choose the best treatment. The stage is based on whether the cancer has invaded nearby tissues or spread to other parts of the body.
When cancer spreads from its original place to another part of the body, the new tumor has the same kind of abnormal cells and the same name as the primary (original) tumor. For example, if uterine cancer spreads to the lung, the cancer cells in the lung are actually uterine cancer cells. The disease is metastatic uterine cancer, not lung cancer. It’s treated as uterine cancer, not as lung cancer. Doctors sometimes call the new tumor “distant” disease.
To learn whether uterine cancer has spread, your doctor may order one or more tests:
- Lab tests: A Pap test can show whether cancer cells have spread to the cervix, and blood tests can show how well the liver and kidneys are working. Also, your doctor may order a blood test for a substance known as CA-125. Cancer may cause a high level of CA-125.
- Chest x-ray: An x-ray of the chest can show a tumor in the lung.
- CT scan: An x-ray machine linked to a computer takes a series of detailed pictures of your pelvis, abdomen, or chest. You may receive an injection of contrast material so your lymph nodes and other tissues show up clearly in the pictures. A CT scan can show cancer in the uterus, lymph nodes, lungs, or elsewhere.
- MRI: A large machine with a strong magnet linked to a computer is used to make detailed pictures of your uterus and lymph nodes. You may receive an injection of contrast material. MRI can show cancer in the uterus, lymph nodes, or other tissues in the abdomen.
In most cases, surgery is needed to learn the stage of uterine cancer. The surgeon removes the uterus and may take tissue samples from the pelvis and abdomen. After the uterus is removed, it is checked to see how deeply the tumor has grown. Also, the other tissue samples are checked for cancer cells.These are the stages of uterine cancer:
- Stage 0: The abnormal cells are found only on the surface of the inner lining of the uterus. The doctor may call this carcinoma in situ.
- Stage I: The tumor has grown through the inner lining of the uterus to the endometrium. It may have invaded the myometrium.
- Stage II: The tumor has invaded the cervix.
- Stage III: The tumor has grown through the uterus to reach nearby tissues, such as the vagina or a lymph node.
- Stage IV: The tumor has invaded the bladder or intestine. Or, cancer cells have spread to parts of the body far away from the uterus, such as the liver, lungs, or bones.