Postmenopausal bleeding (PMB) is the presenting sign in most cases of endometrial carcinoma. Prompt evaluation of PMB can exclude, or diagnose, endometrial carcinoma.1 Although no general consensus exists for PMB evaluation, it involves endometrial assessment with transvaginal ultrasonography (TVUS) and subsequent endometrial biopsy when a thickened endometrium is found. When biopsy results reveal insufficient or scant tissue, further investigation into the etiology of PMB should include office hysteroscopy with possible directed biopsy. In this article I discuss the prevalence of PMB and steps for evaluation, providing clinical takeaways.
Postmenopausal bleeding: Its risk for cancer
Abnormal uterine bleeding (AUB) in a postmenopausal woman is of particular concern to the gynecologist and the patient because of the increased possibility of endometrial carcinoma in this age group. AUB is present in more than 90% of postmenopausal women with endometrial carcinoma, which leads to diagnosis in the early stages of the disease. Approximately 3% to 7% of postmenopausal women with PMB will have endometrial carcinoma.2 Most women with PMB, however, experience bleeding secondary to atrophic changes of the vagina or endometrium and not to endometrial carcinoma. (FIGURE 1, VIDEO 1) In addition, women who take gonadal steroids for hormone replacement therapy (HRT) may experience breakthrough bleeding that leads to initial investigation with TVUS.
The risk of malignancy in polyps in postmenopausal women over the age of 59 who present with PMB is approximately 12%, and hysteroscopic resection should routinely be performed. For asymptomatic patients, the risk of a malignant lesion is low—approximately 3%—and for these women intervention should be assessed individually for the risks of carcinoma and benefits of hysteroscopic removal.3
Clinical takeaway. The high possibility of endometrial carcinoma in postmenopausal women warrants that any patient who is symptomatic with PMB should be presumed to have endometrial cancer until the diagnostic evaluation process proves she does not.
Evaluation of postmenopausal bleeding
As mentioned, no general consensus exists for the evaluation of PMB; however, initial evaluation by TVUS is recommended. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) concluded that when the endometrium measures ≤4 mm with TVUS, the likelihood that bleeding is secondary to endometrial carcinoma is less than 1% (negative predictive value 99%), and endometrial biopsy is not recommended.3 Endometrial sampling in this clinical scenario likely will result in insufficient tissue for evaluation, and it is reasonable to consider initial management for atrophy. A thickened endometrium on TVUS (>4 mm in a postmenopausal woman with PMB) warrants additional evaluation with endometrial sampling (FIGURE 2).
Clinical takeaway. A thickened endometrium on TVUS ≥4 mm in a postmenopausal woman with PMB warrants additional evaluation with endometrial sampling.
An endometrial biopsy is performed to determine whether endometrial cancer or precancer is present in women with AUB. ACOG recommends that endometrial biopsy be performed for women older than age 45. It is also appropriate in women younger than 45 years if they have risk factors for developing endometrial cancer, including unopposed estrogen exposure (obesity, ovulatory dysfunction), failed medical management of AUB, or persistence of AUB.4
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