Gwen Ifill, the highly respected PBS newscaster, died recently. Ms. Ifill’s professionalism and leadership in the field of journalism inspired many of her colleagues, both at PBS NewsHour where she was co-anchor and in every corner of the news business where she inspired the highest standards and was widely admired. Her untimely passing at age 61 also came as a shock to millions of viewers and her many friends. By her age, she was a member of the baby boomer generation.
Ms. Ifill died November 14 at a hospice center in Washington, D.C. Her family told The Washington Post the cause was endometrial cancer. Her death has cast new attention on endometrial cancer, the most common cancer of the female reproductive system and one that strikes postmenopausal women almost exclusively.
Also called uterine cancer, endometrial cancer begins with abnormal cell growth in the inner lining of the uterus. Annually, about 60,000 women will be diagnosed with it and more than 10,000 will die from it. And while the overall rate of cancer in the U.S. has been declining over the past 20 years, the incidence of endometrial cancer is increasing, particularly the aggressive kind, according to a 2015 study.
The average age of women diagnosed with endometrial cancer is 60 — it is rare in women under age 45 — and while it’s slightly more common in white women, African American women are more likely to have an aggressive form of the disease and to die from it.
There is also no screening test to detect the disease, so while it’s highly treatable if caught early, the American Cancer Society says it’s important that at menopause, all women should be told about the risks and symptoms of endometrial cancer and to report any vaginal bleeding, discharge or spotting to their doctor.
Here is what you need to know, according to an AARP alert:
Recognize the signs and symptoms. Unusual vaginal bleeding, spotting or other discharge is the most common warning sign. About 90 percent of women with endometrial cancer had these symptoms. See your doctor for any irregular bleeding or pain in the pelvis right away.
Don’t rely on your regular pelvic exam or Pap test. They are ineffective at detecting early endometrial cancer, says the cancer society. (The Pap test screens for cervical cancer, not endometrial.)
Know your risk factors. They include being older than 50; obesity (the disease is three times as common in obese women); diabetes (four times as common in women with diabetes); taking estrogen (without progesterone) during menopause; taking tamoxifen, a drug used to treat some forms of breast cancer; a family history of uterine or ovarian cancer; and a family history of an inherited type of colon cancer called hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer (HNPCC), which can raise the risk of endometrial cancer by 40 to 60 percent.