Uterine Cancer Risk Factors

The exact cause or causes of uterine cancer are unknown. However, several risk factors increase a woman ‘s vulnerability for developing endometrial cancer. These risk factors include hormones, poor diet, obesity, heredity, and previous cancers.

Hormones and Uterine Cancer

An increased risk of endometrial cancer has been linked to high levels of estrogen. Possible factors associated with elevated estrogen include existing estrogen-secreting tumors, polycystic ovaries (PCOS), early onset of first menstruation, drug treatments for infertility, chronic failure to ovulate, few or no pregnancies and late onset of menopause. Also, women who take certain forms of HRT drugs that contain high levels of estrogen and/or low levels of progesterone are also at greater risk of uterine cancer.

The drug tamoxifen, an anti-estrogenic drug used for treating breast cancer, is also known to stimulate estrogen receptors in the uterus. In addition, one of the known side effects of tamoxifen is that it may trigger the onset of pre-cancerous tumors of the uterus, which may develop into endometrial cancer.

Contrary to popular belief, oral contraceptives containing both estrogen and progesterone have been shown to decrease the risk of developing cancer of the uterus.

Diet and Uterine Cancer

A specific link between diet and an increased risk of endometrial cancer has yet to be established. Certain studies, however, suggest, that eating a diet rich in saturated, animal fats may increase one ‘s risk of developing cancer of the uterus. Conversely, eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole-grain foods has been shown to reduce one ‘s risk for uterine cancer.

Morbid Obesity and Endometrial Cancer

A link has been established between the prevalence of obesity in Western World countries and an increase in the number of cases of uterine cancer. Studies of obesity have revealed that women who suffer from morbid obesity are two to five times more likely to develop uterine cancer. This may be attributable to the fact that fat cells produce excess estrogen. To learn more go to the Obesity and Cancer site.

A higher incidence of endometrial cancer is also associated with obesity-related diabetes mellitus and high blood pressure (hypertension). Further research, however, is required to establish whether diabetes or hypertension, alone, increase the risk of uterine cancer, or whether these risk factors are related solely to obesity.

Heredity and Cancer of the Uterus

Studies have shown that heredity and genetic mutations increase the likelihood of developing endometrial cancer. In some women, the risk of inheriting genetic mutations linked to uterine cancer is as high as fifty percent.

According to a report in the September 2002 issue of Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology, the inheritance of certain genetic mutations can significantly increase the risk of developing endometrial cancer. For example, MLH1 or MLH2 genetic mutations, which are associated with HNPCC (hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer), also increase the risk for endometrial cancer.

Previous Cancers Unrelated to Endometrial Cancer

Women who have had breast, colon or ovarian tumors, even with a gap of up to ten years between occurrences, are at greater risk for developing uterine cancer.