Can an Endometrial Biopsy Diagnose Uterine Cancer?

Last Editorial Review: 1/11/2018

Ask the experts

What can be determined from an endometrial biopsy? For uterine cancer, when do you know the type of cancer, stage, growth, etc.?

Doctor's response

Endometrial biopsy can give you information on whether the lining of the uterus (womb) is abnormally thickened or contains cancer cells.

If the lining of the uterus becomes too thick, the condition is called endometrial hyperplasia.   Risk factors for endometrial hyperplasia include obesity, use of estrogen pills without progesterone, and certain medical conditions that cause irregular periods.  Endometrial hyperplasia can often be treated with medications or with minimal procedures.  However, if left untreated, it can cause endometrial cancer.  Therefore, any woman with irregular periods, or excessively heavy periods, should see a physician to evaluate if the cause is a sign of something requiring treatment.  Thankfully, often the evaluation will show no abnormalities, but given the fact that the hyperplasia is easily treated and should not be allowed to progress, all women with irregular periods should have this possible diagnosis, along with other, discussed with a physician. 

Staging of endometrial cancer (cancer of the uterus) is not complete with just an endometrial biopsy. Anyone with endometrial biopsy showing cancer undergoes surgery. The whole point of the surgery is not just removal of the uterus, but confirmation of the extent of the cancer.  Fortunately, many uterine cancers are caught early enough so than they have not spread outside the uterus. The only thing the endometrial biopsy helps with is ruling out endometrial hyperplasia or showing endometrial cancer cells are present.  They do not confirm the extent of any cancer present.

Author: Carolyn Janet Crandall, M.D.