Controlling symptoms of advanced womb cancer | Cancer Research UK
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Controlling symptoms of advanced womb cancer

Sometimes womb cancer can't be cured, but treatment is available to control your symptoms.

Doctors can use radiotherapy, hormone therapy, surgery and chemotherapy to treat womb cancer that has spread or cannot be cured. Which treatment you have will depend on where your cancer has spread and how big it is, the symptoms the cancer is causing, the treatment you have already had and how well you are.

Deciding about treatment

When you have advanced cancer it can be difficult to decide which treatment to try, or whether to have treatment at all. You will need to consider how the treatment will affect you. Your doctor will discuss the options for treatment with you. There may be a specialist nurse you can talk to. And you may wish to talk things over with a close friend or relative.

It can be helpful to talk over difficult decisions with someone who is outside your circle of family and friends. Look in the coping with cancer section to find out more about counselling.

 

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the treating womb cancer section.

 

Advanced womb cancer

Sometimes womb cancer can't be cured. This may be because 

  • The cancer has spread from where it started in the womb
  • The cancer has come back (recurred) after it was first treated

If your womb cancer can't be cured, there is treatment available to control your symptoms. This treatment may not get rid of the cancer altogether, but it may be able to shrink it and slow it down.

Sometimes the cancer keeps coming back in the pelvis or abdomen despite all the treatment you have had. This is called recurrent cancer.

Less often, womb cancer can spread from where it started in the womb to other organs in the body. This is called secondary cancer (metastasis). Some of the womb cancer cells may have travelled through the lymphatic system or bloodstream and lodged in another part of the body. They have then started to grow there. If womb cancer does spread to a more distant part of the body it most often spreads to the

Click on the links above to find out more about secondary cancers.

 

Which treatments are used?

Doctors can use radiotherapy, hormone therapy, surgery and chemotherapy to treat womb cancer that has spread or cannot be cured. Which treatment you have will depend on

  • Where your cancer has spread
  • The size and number of secondary cancers you have
  • The symptoms the cancer is causing
  • The treatment you have already had
  • Your general health

There may be trials of experimental treatments going on which you could take part in. These may be trials for radiotherapy, new chemotherapy drugs or new types of treatment. There is a lot of information in our section about clinical trials. You can also search our clinical trials database for trials open to women with womb cancer. 

 

Deciding about treatment

When you have advanced cancer it can be difficult to decide which treatment to try, or whether to have treatment at all. You will need to consider how the treatment will affect you. This means finding out about side effects as well as thinking about travelling back and forth to the hospital for appointments and treatment.

Most importantly, you will need to understand what can be achieved with the treatment you are being offered. Your doctor will discuss the treatment options with you. There may be a counsellor or specialist nurse you could chat to. You may also want to talk things over with a close relative or friend. It can be helpful to talk over difficult decisions with someone who is outside your circle of family and friends. In this case, you may want to look at our counselling organisations page. To find out more about counselling look at the counselling section.

 

Radiotherapy for advanced womb cancer

Your doctor may suggest radiotherapy for advanced womb cancer. Radiotherapy can control pain by shrinking tumours that are pressing on nerves or growing inside the bones. When radiotherapy is used to control symptoms, usually only a short course is needed. Sometimes only 1 or 2 treatments are given, very rarely more than 10. So it does not usually have many side effects.

Your doctor may suggest radiotherapy to

There is a maximum total dose of radiotherapy you can have to any part of the body. This is because too much radiotherapy could cause permanent damage. So if you have already had your radiotherapy limit to your pelvis and abdomen after surgery, it is unlikely that more radiotherapy to this area will be an option for you.

There is detailed information about radiotherapy in the main radiotherapy section. And we have a section with specific information about radiotherapy for womb cancer.

 

Hormone therapy for advanced womb cancer

Some types of hormone therapy, such as progesterone, can help to shrink or control womb cancers that have spread. They are especially useful when the cancer has spread to the lungs. There is more about hormone therapy for womb cancer in this section.

 

Surgery for advanced womb cancer

Your specialist will only suggest surgery in very specific situations for womb cancer that cannot be cured. You would only be able to have surgery if you are fit enough to make a good recovery from an operation. It is important that the benefits of the operation are more than the discomfort you will have to go through. So you need to think how getting over surgery will make you feel. Surgery can be used to

 

Treating a blocked bowel

If your cancer begins to grow into your bowel, there is a risk it may cause a blockage. This means that the waste that normally passes through the bowel cannot get through. This does not happen to everyone, but if it happens to you, you may

  • Feel bloated
  • Be constipated
  • Feel sick
  • Have griping pains in your abdomen
  • Vomit large amounts

It may be possible to have an operation to remove the blockage, or in some cases, bypass it by making a colostomy. There is detailed information about having a colostomy operation in the section about bowel cancer.

Remember – if you go to the colostomy information, you will be in a section about a different type of cancer. The rest of the information in that section will not apply to you, so you will need to come back to the womb cancer section.

No one can say how much you will benefit from this operation. Afterwards you may feel well for quite a few months. And the operation will stop you having symptoms for some time. But it may be quite a big operation just when you are feeling low. Sometimes it is possible to do a colostomy without needing a big operation.

If you are not able to have surgery, your specialist may suggest a drug called somatostatin (Octreotide) to help control the symptoms of a blocked bowel. The drug works by reducing the amount of fluid that builds up in your stomach and digestive system. Unfortunately, this treatment usually only works for a few weeks or a couple of months.

There is some information in our sickness section about having a blocked bowel.

 

Treating a waterlogged kidney

Doctors call a waterlogged kidney hydronephrosis. Sometimes womb cancer can spread and block one of the tubes from the kidney to the bladder (the ureters). This means that the urine made by that kidney can't drain away and the kidney becomes overloaded with it. To treat this, your doctor will either

  • Put in a tube to drain the urine from the kidney
  • Remove the kidney

The drainage tube is called a nephrostomy tube. It is attached to a bag outside the body. The urine collects in the bag, which has a tap so it can be emptied easily. After this type of surgery, you will have a district nurse visit you at home to help you manage the tube and drainage bag.

Sometimes it is possible to pass a tube (a stent) through the blockage so that the kidney can drain inside you and you don’t need a drainage bag.

Removing your kidney is a bigger operation than putting in a drainage tube. It will not always be possible or necessary to do it. Your doctor will consider whether you are fit enough to have this operation.

 

Chemotherapy for advanced womb cancer

Chemotherapy is used less often for womb cancer than for many other types of cancer. This is because it has not been proved in clinical trials that chemotherapy definitely helps. Sometimes chemotherapy can help to control symptoms of advanced womb cancer. The research evidence overall shows that chemotherapy can slow down the growth of advanced womb cancers. 

There is detailed information about chemotherapy in the main chemotherapy section. And more about chemotherapy for womb cancer in this section of the website.

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Updated: 6 October 2014