Medical Q&As

Adenocarcinoma of the uterus - explain?

Can you explain what adenocarcinoma of the uterus means?

There are several different types of cancer of the uterus with adenocarcinoma being the commonest type. In fact the term uterine cancer is usually understood to mean adenocarcinoma. Adenocarcinoma can occur in many parts of the body and the term means a cancer that arises within glandular cells. In the case of adenocarcinoma of the uterus these glandular cells are contained within the endometrium or lining of the womb. This type of cancer rarely occurs in younger women and tends to occur after the menopause. The female sex hormone oestrogen has an important influence on the development of uterine cancer. Oestrogen stimulates the endometrium to grow and if this stimulation is prolonged and unopposed by that other female sex hormone, progesterone, the growth in endometrium can become chaotic and in some cases can result in the development of cancer. That is the reason why menopausal women using HRT use hormone preparations containing both oestrogen and progesterone. In other words if the woman had an intact womb the unopposed oestrogen therapy could result in adenocarcinoma of the womb. However, if a woman has had a hysterectomy then an oestrogen-only product would be acceptable. Prolonged progesterone influence on the endometrium results in thinning of this tissue with reduced numbers of glandular cells. Therefore pregnancy and the combined contraceptive pill are protective against adenocarcinoma of the uterus due to the influence of the progesterone in both of those scenarios. You can learn more about this topic by reading our special feature on cancer of the womb, which you can access at: