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Learn the Lingo


Here is a quick reference you can use to start to learn the vocabulary and language you may hear in medical visits.

Click on or hover over each word to see the definition. 

Knowledge is power – so if there's anything said to you that you do not understand, know that you can ask for definitions and explanations as many times as you need to!


A note about the sources we use for education materials:

We believe in providing you with information that you can trust. That means we take everything into consideration: strong medical evidence and wisdom and knowledge from the community. We also lean on health care providers focused on Black women’s health to contribute.

We don’t have all the answers. We also want to hear from YOU. Submit information that we might have missed or questions that you would like us to address.

Learn the Lingo

vaginal ultrasound

A vaginal ultrasound is used to see a detailed picture of the uterus, cervix, tubes, and ovaries. An ultrasound can detect whether there is extra tissue in the uterus that is worrisome for cancer. An ultrasound alone cannot diagnose endometrial cancer or the cause of bleeding after menopause. 

endometrial cancer

“Endometrial” is the medical term for the inner wall or lining of the uterus. Having endometrial cancer means having cancer cells growing in this place.


“Stage” refers to where the cancer has spread from it’s original starting place.


Cancer ‘grade’ is a kind of scoring system for how aggressive the actual cancer cells are. Grade is determined by looking at the cells under a microscope.

Grade 1 – Low grade

Grade 2 – Intermediate grade

Grade 3 – High grade


Histology means refers to the kinds of cancer cells that are growing. Within endometrial cancer, there are different types. You may have:


Serous / Papillary Serous





This is a term used to describe changes to the endometrium (inner wall of the uterus) that are pre-cancer changes. If not treated, hyperplasia can progress to endometrial cancer.

uterine cancer

Cancer somewhere in the uterus – can be ‘endometrial’ (the inner wall), or in the muscle wall (sarcoma). Sometimes ‘endometrial cancers’  are simply called uterine cancer


Fibroids – sometimes called “leiomyomas” in medical reports – are benign growths of uterine muscle tissue. They are NOT cancer and they do not cause cancer. They can cause bleeding, pain, and pressure in some women. 


“Endometrium” is the medical term for the inner wall or lining of the uterus. Having endometrial cancer means having a cancer cells growing in this place.

lymph nodes

Lymph nodes, sometimes just called “nodes”, are bean-shaped small organs that are part of the body’s lymphatic system. We have groups of nodes all over our bodies that are connected through direct channels and the blood stream.  

cancer cells

Cancer develops when the portion of the DNA that controls growth in cells develops an abnormality which causes cells to begin to grow rapidly and out of control.  

endometrial biopsy

This is a procedure that usually happens in a clinic or doctor’s office. After using a speculum to see the cervix, a small tube passed into the uterus to collect a sample of tissue. This tissue can be examined to determine if there are cancer cells in the uterus. This is different from a Pap smear, that only tests the outside of the cervix.

dilation & curettage (D&C)

This is a procedure that usually happens in an operating room. The doctor uses small instruments to open the entry to the cervix and can then take a larger sample of the tissue in the inner lining of the uterus. This tissue can then be examined to see if there are cancer cells present.


This is a procedure usually done with a D&C, where the doctor can also use a small camera to look inside the uterus and see the inner lining. Fibroids and polyps can be seen this way. A sample of tissue must be taken in order to tell if there is an endometrial cancer present or not.


Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is conducted in a machine that uses magnets and electricity to help doctors look closely at bodily tissues. An injection of a non-toxic dye may be used to help identify abnormal tissues.


X-rays are an imaging test that primarily show bones in detail and other internal structures, like lung tissue and air bubbles. X-rays cannot see soft tissues – like muscles, lymph nodes, reproductive organs.

pelvic exam

The purpose of a pelvic exam is to examine the internal and external parts of the pelvic area – including the genitalia and the organs in your abdomen. Your provider will use a speculum to look at the vagina and cervix, and also use their hands to gently feel your uterus and ovaries.


Hysterectomy means removing the uterus, but there are many different kinds.  It’s important to know for sure what parts have and have not been removed. Hysterectomy is the first step of treatment for most women with endometrial cancer and gives important information about whether or not any treatment is needed after surgery.


There are many different kinds of medications that can treat cancers, and they are all lumped together under the term ‘chemotherapy.’ Each medication is very different, with different side effects, different doses, and different ways they are given for each kind of cancer. In endometrial cancer, the two most common chemotherapy medications are PACLITAXEL and CARBOPLATIN. Whether or not you need chemotherapy is based on your STAGE, GRADE, and HISTOLOGY. 


Radiation treatment works by directing beams at specific areas of the body to either shrink tumors that are there or prevent cancer from growing there. There are two primary kinds of radiation treatment for endometrial cancer – pelvic radiation and vaginal radiation. Whether or not a patient needs radiation treatment is determined by the STAGE, GRADE, and HISTOLOGY of the cancer.

hormonal therapy

Some kinds of endometrial cancer are caused by extra estrogen hormone in the body. Because of this, they can be treated with a different kind of hormone therapy that blocks the effects of estrogen. These two kinds of hormonal treatment are progesterone therapies and aromatase inhibitors. Whether or not hormonal therapy will be effective for a patient is based on the STAGE, GRADE, and HISTOLOGY type of the cancer.

gynecologic oncologist

A gynecologic oncologist ("gyn onc") is surgeon who has completed advanced training specifically to operate on endometrial, cervical, ovarian, vulvar, and vaginal cancers. Many of these specialists also treat their patients with chemotherapy or hormonal therapy.

medical oncologist

A medical oncologist is a physician who completed advanced training to take care of all different types of cancers. They give chemotherapy and other medical treatments for cancer. They may or may not specialize in gynecologic cancers, like endometrial cancer.

radiation oncologist

A radiation oncologist is a physician who specializes in giving radiation therapy to people with many different kinds of cancer. They usually work closely with either a gynecologic oncologist or a medical oncologist as part of your cancer team.


A radiologist is a physician who analyzes and interprets imaging tests like x-rays, "CAT" scans, PET scans, and ultrasounds. They do not directly treat patients.

stage 1
Stage 1: cancer is only in the uterus
Stage 1: cancer is only in the uterus


stage 2
Stage 2: cancer has spread to cervix
Stage 2: cancer has spread to the cervix



stage 3
Stage 3: cancer has spread to lymph nodes or areas in the abdomen
Stage 3: cancer has spread to lymph nodes or areas in the abdomen


stage 4
Stage 4: cancer has spread to lungs or other organs
Stage 4: cancer has spread to lungs or other organs


test: CA125

CA125 is a protein that appears in your blood in response to some types of cancer cell growth. A test for CA125 is sometimes used to look for signs of cancer spread or monitor your response to treatment. Most women with endometrial cancer will not be monitored with CA 125, as it is only elevated in some cases. 

vaginal brachytherapy

A type of radiation treatment that involves placing radioactive materials (that look like seeds, ribbons, or wires) directly into the vagina to kill cancer cells in that area. This may occur during a single treatment or over a few days. 


This is a general term for approaches you and your care team might take as you diagnose and treat the cancer. Procedures include endometrial biopsy, D&C, Hysteroscopy, Vaginal ultrasound, MRI, X-ray, and Pelvic Exam


this is a general term for approaches you and your care team might take to eliminating the cancer, including hysterectomy, chemotherapy, radiation, vaginal brachytherapy, and hormonal therapy.

uterine papillary serous cancer

A rare and aggressive form of endometrial cancer [more common in African American women and causing a disproportionate number of deaths from endometrial cancer