The uterus is a hollow, muscular organ found between the bladder and rectum of the female pelvis. This organ is about the same size and shape as a small pear, though it varies in size for every woman. Central to reproduction, the uterus contains and feeds a fertilized egg until the fetus develops and is born.
The unique structure and purpose of the uterus makes it vulnerable to specific diseases. Three of the most common conditions affecting the uterus include uterine fibroids, endometriosis, and endometrial cancer. Learn more about these conditions, and how you can screen for them, below.
Uterine fibroids are benign tumors that form in the smooth muscle in the wall of the uterus. Fibroids are the most common condition affecting the uterus, occurring in up to 70 percent of Caucasian women and 80 percent of African-American women under age 50.
Although fibroids are common, they only cause symptoms in less than one-third of cases. Symptoms of uterine fibroids may include:
- Abnormal menstrual bleeding
- Swollen or painful abdomen
- Pelvic pressure or pain
- Painful intercourse
Uterine fibroids are often found during a routine pelvic exam, or they can be found in a medical imaging scan. Fibroids can range widely in size, from the size of a grain of rice to large enough to press on other organs in the abdomen and pelvis. Size often affects the severity of symptoms.
Symptoms may worsen without treatment. Treatment options for uterine fibroids include medication or surgical treatment.
The tissue that lines the uterus is called the endometrium. Endometriosis is a disease that causes this tissue to grow in other parts of the body, such as the ovaries, fallopian tubes, bowels, bladder, or behind the uterus. This disease is most commonly diagnosed among women in their 30s and 40s, but it can affect anyone who menstruates.
The cause of endometriosis is currently unknown, but researchers have found certain risk factors. Family history, starting menstruation before age 11, short monthly cycles, and heavy menstrual cycles are all associated with developing endometriosis.
Primary symptoms of endometriosis include:
- Pelvic pain
- Painful periods
- Pain during sex
- Abdominal pain
- Heavy periods or bleeding between periods
- Pain with bowel movements or urination, usually during periods
Endometriosis may be found during a routine pelvic exam. Doctors may also perform an MRI scan to locate and assess the extent of the disease.
While there is no cure for endometriosis, treatments can help alleviate symptoms. These include pain relievers, hormone therapy, and surgery, as well as treatments for infertility.
Endometrial cancer, also known as uterine cancer, develops in the lining of the uterus. Other types of cancer affect the uterus, such as uterine sarcoma, but they are rare.
The most common symptoms of endometrial cancer are vaginal bleeding after menopause, bleeding between periods, and pelvic pain. Fortunately, uterine cancer is often detected early because of these symptoms.
Treatments for endometrial cancer include:
- Surgery to remove the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries
- Immunotherapy to encourage the body’s immune system to fight cancer
An MRI scan is one of the best ways to screen for endometrial cancer and identify other conditions affecting the uterus. This radiation-free imaging option is safe and painless, safely screening for different conditions to give you control over your health.