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Controlling symptoms

Unfortunately advanced womb cancer can't usually be cured but there are a number of ways to control symptoms.

Womb cancer becomes more difficult to treat if it has:

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

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 might have travelled through the lymphatic system or bloodstream and lodged in another part of the body. They have then started to grow there.

Types of treatment

People with advanced womb cancer can have different symptoms depending on where in the body it has spread to. They may include:

  • pain - tell your doctor or nurse if you have pain they can give you something to help
  • tiredness and feeling unwell
  • loss of appetite
  • bowel problems
  • feeling or being sick

Doctors can use radiotherapy, hormone therapy, surgery and chemotherapy to treat womb cancer that has spread or cannot be cured. These can help to control symptoms and the growth of the cancer.

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

You will also have other more specific treatments that help with any symptoms you have such as pain killers for pain. 

There might be trials of experimental treatments which you could take part in. These might be looking at new treatments, or ways to improve existing treatments such as radiotherapy or chemotherapy. You can 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, if any. It is important for you to consider possible side effects and 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 and 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. You may want to look at our counselling organisations page or visit the counselling section.

Treatment options

Radiotherapy can control pain by shrinking tumours that are pressing on nerves or growing inside bones. 

When radiotherapy is used to control symptoms, you usually only need a short course of treatment. You might have 1 or 2 treatments, or up to 10 treatments. So radiotherapy in this situation does not usually have many side effects.

There is a maximum total dose of radiotherapy for any part of the body. This is because too much radiotherapy could cause permenant damage. 

You are unlikely to be offered further treatment to your pelvis or abdomen if you have already had your radiotherapy limit to this area. 

Your doctor might suggest radiotherapy to control pain or to relieve symptoms if your cancer has spread to other organs such as your lungs. 

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.

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:

  • remove as much of the cancer as possible
  • treat cancer that has caused a blocked bowel
  • drain a waterlogged (hydronephrotic) kidney

You might have chemotherapy with the aim of slowing down the growth of cancer that has spread elsewhere in the body. It can also help to control the symptoms of advanced womb cancer.

If you decide not to have treatment

You can have medicines to help control symptoms such as sickness or pain. Your doctor or nurse can let you know what could help you. You can also ask them to refer you to a local symptom control team to give you support at home.

Last reviewed: 
30 Aug 2017
  • Cancer and its management (7th edition)
    J Tobias and D Hochhauser
    Blackwell, 2015

  • Cancer. Principles and practice of oncology (10th edition)
    VT De Vita, S Hellman and SA Rosenberg
    Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, 2015, p 1048-1064

  • ESMO-ESGO-ESTRO Consensus Conference on Endometrial Cancer: diagnosis, treatment and follow-up

    N Columbo and others (2016) 

    Annals of Oncology 27: 16–41

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