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Types of treatment for womb cancer

Women discussing womb cancer

This page gives an overview of the main treatments for womb (endometrial) cancer. You can find the following information

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Types of treatment for womb cancer

Surgery is the first and most important treatment for almost all women with womb cancer. Some women with very early womb cancer may need no further treatment. 

Other treatments for womb cancer include radiotherapy, chemotherapy, or hormone therapy

Surgery

The amount and type of surgery you have will depend on the stage, grade and type of womb cancer. Most women will have their womb, fallopian tubes and ovaries removed.

Radiotherapy

You may have radiotherapy instead of surgery if you are not fit enough for an operation. Or if you really do not want to have an operation. You might also have radiotherapy as your main treatment if it would be too difficult to remove all your womb cancer with surgery.

Your specialist is likely to suggest radiotherapy after surgery if there is a moderate to high risk that the cancer may come back. For example, if you have a high grade cancer or cancer cells were found in your lymph nodes.

Chemotherapy

You may have chemotherapy as well as radiotherapy after surgery for some stage 1 or 2 womb cancers. For some stage 3 or 4 cancers, you may have chemotherapy after your operation to remove as much of the cancer as possible.

Doctors are looking into using chemotherapy and radiotherapy together (chemoradiation) after surgery, where there is a high risk of the cancer coming back. Chemoradiation causes more side effects and so is not suitable for everyone.

Doctors may use chemotherapy on its own if your cancer has spread or has come back after treatment.

Hormone therapy

You may have hormone therapy to help slow down the growth of a cancer that has spread or has come back. 

 

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

 

 

The main treatments

Surgery is the first and most important treatment for almost all women with womb cancer. Women with very early womb cancer (stage 1a) that has a low risk of coming back (low grade) may need no further treatment. 

Other treatments for womb cancer are

 

Planning treatment

Your treatment is likely to be organised by a team of specialists working together – a multi disciplinary team (MDT). 

The team usually includes

  • A surgeon who specialises in treating women's cancers (a gynaecological oncologist)
  • Cancer drug specialist (medical oncologist)
  • Radiotherapy and cancer drug specialist (clinical oncologist)
  • Doctor who specialises in taking and reading X-rays and scans (radiologist)
  • Cancer specialist nurse
  • Pathologist
  • Other professionals such as social workers, dieticians and counsellors or psychologists

Most women see a surgeon first because surgery is the most likely treatment. You may then also see a cancer specialist (oncologist). 

The team will plan your treatment according to

  • The type of womb cancer you have
  • Whether the cancer has spread (the stage)
  • What the cells look like under the microscope (the grade)
  • Your general health
  • Your preferences
 

Surgery

Almost all women with womb cancer will have surgery. The amount and type of surgery you have will depend on the stage, grade and type of cancer. Most women will be advised to have their womb, and both fallopian tubes and ovaries removed. This is called a total hysterectomy and bilateral salpingo oophorectomy.

Some women may need to have the lymph nodes around the womb removed and checked for signs of cancer. This is done at the same time as your hysterectomy. Not only does it remove any cancer that is in the lymph nodes, but checking them helps your specialist to decide on whether you need any further treatment. You are most likely to have surgery to remove the lymph nodes if you have a grade 2 or 3 womb cancer, or a type 2 womb cancer such as serous or clear cell cancer. 

For early cancers that are completely contained within the womb, surgery is very successful and often no further treatment is needed.

Your specialist may suggest surgery for a womb cancer that has spread beyond the womb. There is some evidence that although surgery may not result in a cure, removing as much as possible can help to slow down the growth of the cancer. But you need to be well enough to make a good recovery from the surgery in order to benefit from it.

We have more detailed information about surgery for womb cancer.

 

Radiotherapy

Some women have radiotherapy for cancer of the womb. You may have radiotherapy

  • Instead of surgery, as your main treatment
  • After surgery

You may have radiotherapy instead of surgery because you are not fit enough for an operation. Or because you really do not want to have an operation. Your doctors may also suggest radiotherapy as the main treatment if your cancer has spread and it would be too difficult to remove it all with surgery.

Usually, specialists suggest radiotherapy after surgery if there is a moderate to high risk that the cancer may come back. This may be because

  • The cancer had grown more than half way through the muscle wall of the womb
  • The cancer has grown down to the neck of the womb (cervix)
  • The cancer cells are high grade

Your specialist may also suggest radiotherapy if your lymph nodes were found to contain cancer cells. If your lymph nodes were removed, but were free of cancer, you may not need radiotherapy after surgery. But this may depend on how many lymph nodes are removed.

You may have radiotherapy from a large machine that directs the radiation beams at the cancer (external radiotherapy). Or from a radioactive source that is put into your body near to the cancer (internal radiotherapy). You may have both these types of radiotherapy.

We have more detailed information about radiotherapy for womb cancer.

 

Chemotherapy

You may have chemotherapy as well as radiotherapy after surgery for some stage 1 or 2 womb cancers. This is more likely if you have a high grade cancer or a type 2 cancer, such as clear cell endometrial cancer.

For some stage 3 or 4 womb cancers, you may have chemotherapy after your operation to remove as much of the cancer as possible. A review of trials in 2014 showed that women who had chemotherapy lived longer on average than those who had radiotherapy. But chemotherapy may cause more side effects. You can see the review of chemotherapy for womb cancer trials on this link.

Doctors are looking into using radiotherapy and chemotherapy together (chemoradiation) after surgery for womb cancer. This treatment is being tried in situations where doctors think there is a high risk of the cancer coming back. It is quite intense treatment with more side effects, so is not suitable for everyone.

Doctors may use chemotherapy on its own if your cancer has spread or has come back after treatment.

We have more detailed information about chemotherapy for womb cancer.

 

Hormone therapy

For advanced cancers, or womb cancer that has come back, you may have hormone therapy to help slow down the growth of the cancer. 

We have more information about hormone therapy for womb cancer.

 

Research into womb cancer treatments

There are clinical trials going on around the world for all types of cancer. Doctors and researchers are always working to improve treatment outcomes. Comparing groups of patients who are having different treatments is the best way of doing this. 

We have a page about womb cancer research

And we have a database of clinical trials in the UK, including womb cancer trials.

 

More information about womb cancer treatment

We have detailed information about womb cancer treatments in this section.

If you would like more information about any aspect of womb cancer, you can phone the Cancer Research UK nurses. The number is freephone 0808 800 4040 and the lines are open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. They will be happy to answer any questions that you have.

Our womb cancer organisations page gives details of other people who can provide information about womb cancer and its treatment. Some organisations can put you in touch with a cancer support group. They often have free factsheets and information that they can send to you.

There are also books, booklets, CDs and other resources available about womb cancer treatments. Some of these are free. Look at our womb cancer reading list for details.

If you want to find people to share experiences with online, you could use Cancer Chat, our online forum.

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Updated: 4 October 2014