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The womb

Women discussing womb cancer

This page tells you about the womb and about the difference between womb cancer, cervical cancer and other non cancerous conditions. There is information about

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

The womb

The womb is part of a woman’s reproductive system. The reproductive system is made up of the vagina, the womb (uterus), the neck of the womb (the cervix), the fallopian tubes and the ovaries. The womb is the pear shaped muscular bag that holds and protects a growing baby during pregnancy.

Womb cancer can be called by several different names. Doctors often call it uterine cancer because uterus is the medical name for the womb. Or they may call it endometrial cancer. The endometrium is the lining of the womb. Endometrial cancer is the most common type of womb cancer.

If you are looking for information about cancer of the cervix, this is not the right section for you. Although the cervix is part of the womb, cervical cancer is very different from womb cancer. They each have different outlooks and sometimes different treatments. We have a separate section about cancer of the cervix.

 

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Womb cancer and other types of cancer

Womb cancer can be called by several different names. Doctors often call it uterine cancer because uterus is the medical name for the womb. Or they may call it endometrial cancer. The endometrium is the lining of the womb. Endometrial cancer is the most common type of womb cancer.

If you are looking for information about cancer of the neck of the womb (cervix), this is not the right section for you. We have a separate section about cancer of the cervix. Cancer of the neck of the womb is different to cancer of the womb lining. These cancers have different outlooks and sometimes different treatments.

 

The womb and reproductive system

The womb is part of a woman’s reproductive system. It is the pear shaped muscular bag that holds and protects a growing baby during pregnancy. The reproductive system is made up of the

  • Vagina
  • Womb (uterus)
  • The neck of the womb (the cervix)
  • Fallopian tubes
  • Ovaries

Diagram showing the parts of the female reproductive system

The vagina is the tube that connects the neck of the womb with the outside of the body. The womb is in the lower abdomen, between the bladder and the back passage (rectum). The ovaries are on either side of the womb. These are where a woman’s eggs are produced. There are two tubes that connect the top of the womb to the ovaries. These are called the fallopian tubes.

The lining of the womb is called the endometrium (pronounced en-doh-mee-tree-um). In fertile women the endometrium grows and thickens each month. This is how the womb gets ready to receive a fertilised egg, if pregnancy occurs. If fertilisation takes place then the endometrial lining will continue to thicken and eventually become the placenta. The placenta supplies nourishment from the mother to the growing foetus.

If the woman’s egg is not fertilised by a man’s sperm, then the thickened lining is shed from the womb. This shedding of the lining occurs through the vagina as a monthly period. This is known as menstruation. Menstruation begins at puberty (menarche) and stops at menopause (sometimes called the change of life). The ages at which these occur vary greatly from woman to woman.

As it thickens, the womb lining becomes a rich spongy surface full of blood vessels. Whether or not the lining will develop to form a placenta, or be shed, depends on whether the woman becomes pregnant that month. The menstrual cycle is the thickening and shedding of the womb lining and is controlled by the female sex hormones

  • Oestrogen
  • Progesterone

These female sex hormones are produced by the ovaries.

 

Non cancerous womb problems

Sometimes problems with the womb can happen that have nothing to do with cancer, but can cause similar symptoms. Common womb problems include endometriosis, fibroids and polyps.

 

Endometriosis

This disease is most common in women in their 30s and 40s, especially those who have never been pregnant. In endometriosis, the lining of the womb (the endometrium) begins to grow on the outside of the womb and on the nearby organs. It can be very painful and sometimes causes abnormal vaginal bleeding. Rarely it can affect a woman’s ability to have children – her fertility. Endometriosis is usually treated with hormone therapy or surgery, or both.

 

Fibroids

Fibroids are quite common benign tumours of the muscles of the womb. They are found mostly in women in their 40s. Benign tumours are not cancers. Cells from benign tumours do not spread to other parts of the body. You can have several fibroids at a time. Often they do not cause any symptoms and do not always need treating. Large fibroids are more likely to cause symptoms. Symptoms include irregular bleeding, vaginal discharge and if the fibroids are pressing on the bladder, a frequent need to pass urine. 

Treatment depends on where the fibroids are and how big they are. Fibroids are very rarely a threat to life. They can usually be removed and don't usually come back. If your fibroids are causing pain, your doctor might decide to remove them, or give you some other type of treatment.

 

Polyps in the womb lining

An endometrial polyp (uterine polyp) is a lump in the inner lining of the womb. Most are benign (non cancerous) although some may contain small areas of cancer cells. They may be flat or mushroom shaped. They can be a few millimetres in size or several centimetres. They often cause no symptoms but can cause irregular menstrual bleeding, bleeding between periods, very heavy menstrual bleeding (menorrhagia), and vaginal bleeding after menopause.

Some polyps go away on their own with no treatment. Larger polyps can be removed surgically. They often come back and can be removed again.

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Updated: 10 January 2013