Designing Woman, Dixie Carter, Succumbs to Cancer

Dixie Carter, the actress best  known for her role as Julia Sugarbaker on the show Designing Women, died today of endometrial cancer. Her death was announced in a written statement by her husband, actor Hal Holbrook: “This has been a terrible blow to our family. We would appreciate everyone understanding that this is a private family tragedy.”

Carter had more recently been seen in a recurrent role on Desperate Housewives in 2007, for which she was nominated for an Emmy. In 2009, she co-starred with Holbrook in the movie “That Evening Sun.”


The uterus is a pear-shaped, hollow organ in the female pelvis which acts as the womb for a developing infant. The lower, narrow end of the uterus is the cervix, which leads to the vagina. The uterus is made up of muscle, called the myometrium. Inside the myometrium, the uterus is lined by a vascular tissue called the endometrium. The endometrium varies in thickness under the influence of the female hormones estrogen and progesterone, and it is the endometrium that is sloughed and causes bleeding during a menstrual period.

Endometrial cancer is a cancer of the uterus which rises from the endometrial lining. A cancer that affects the myometrium is called a uterine sarcoma. Endometrial cancer is the most common cancer of the female reproductive system in the United States. According to the American Cancer Society:

  • About 42,160 new cases of cancer of the body of the uterus will be diagnosed in the United States during 2009.
  • About 7,780 women in the United States will die from cancers of the uterine body during 2009.
  • When all cases of endometrial cancer are looked at together, the 5-year relative survival rate is about 83%.
  • Most of these cancers are found at an early stage, which has a 5-year survival rate of over 95%.

(These estimates include both endometrial cancers and uterine sarcomas. About 2% of uterine body cancers are sarcomas, so the actual numbers for endometrial cancer cases and deaths are slightly lower than these estimates.)

Endometrial cancer is rare in women under 40, with most cases occurring in women 50 and older. The average risk of a woman to get endometrial cancer over the course of her life is 1 in 40.

Symptoms of endometrial cancer include :

  • unusual vaginal discharge
  • pain in the pelvis
  • Bleeding or discharge not related to menstruation (periods).
  • Difficult or painful urination.
  • Pain during sexual intercourse
  • Pain in the pelvic area.

These symptoms are not specific to endometrial cancer, so a physician should be consulted if these symptoms are present.

For more information:

Resounding
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Endometrial Cancer
Mark Boguski, M.D., Ph.D. is on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and is a member of the Society for Participatory Medicine, "a movement in which networked patients shift from being mere passengers to responsible drivers of their health" and in which professional health care providers encourage "empowered patients" and value them as full partners in managing their health and wellness.

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