Postmenopausal bleeding should be referred urgently

Practitioner. 2012 Mar;256(1749):13-5, 2.


Postmenopausal bleeding is an episode of bleeding 12 months or more after the last menstrual period. It occurs in up to 10% of women aged over 55 years. All women with postmenopausal bleeding should be referred urgently. Endometrial cancer is present in around 10% of patients; most bleeding has a benign cause. The peak incidence for endometrial carcinoma is between 65 and 75 years of age. Causes of postmenopausal bleeding include: endometrial carcinoma; cervical carcinoma; vaginal atrophy; endometrial hyperplasia +/- polyp; cervical polyps; hormone-producing ovarian tumours; haematuria and rectal bleeding. The aim of assessment and investigation of postmenopausal bleeding is to identify a cause and exclude cancer. Assessment should start by taking a detailed history, with identification of risk factors for endometrial cancer, as well as a medication history covering use of HRT, tamoxifen and anticoagulants. Abdominal and pelvic examinations should be carried out to look for masses. Speculum examination should be performed to see if a source of bleeding can be identified, assess atrophic changes in the vagina and look for evidence of cervical malignancy or polyps. Ultrasound scan and endometrial biopsy are complementary. Ultrasound scan can define endometrial thickness and identify structural abnormalities of the uterus, endometrium and ovaries. Endometrial biopsy provides a histological diagnosis. The measurement of endometrial thickness aims to identify which women with postmenopausal bleeding are at significant risk of endometrial cancer. If the examination is normal, the bleeding has stopped and the endometrial thickness is < 5 mm on transvaginal ultrasound scan, no further action need be taken.

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma / complications
  • Endometrial Hyperplasia / complications
  • Endometrial Neoplasms / complications
  • Female
  • Genital Neoplasms, Female / complications*
  • Granulosa Cell Tumor / complications*
  • Hemorrhage / etiology*
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / complications
  • Polyps / complications
  • Postmenopause*
  • Referral and Consultation*
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / complications