What causes uterine cancer?

While the exact causes of uterine cancer are unknown, there are known risk factors that may increase your risk.

Uterine cancer—also known as endometrial cancer—is the most common gynaecological cancer. It starts in the lining of the uterus and occurs when healthy cells grow abnormal and out of control.

Unfortunately, we do not know why these abnormal changes occur and lead to cancer, but we do know risk factors that will increase your risk of this occurring.

uterus with abnormal cells

Risk factors are characteristics that increase a person’s likelihood of developing a disease, such as uterine cancer. There are different types of risk factors; some can be controlled by your lifestyle (diet, physical activity) while other risk factors cannot (age, genetic factors).

Although certain factors can increase a woman's risk of developing uterine cancer, it is important to know they will not always cause the cancer.

Many women carry one or more risk factors, and they will never develop uterine cancer. Even if a woman with uterine cancer carries a risk factor, it is difficult to know how much that risk factor contributed to the development of cancer.

Cancer Australia reports the following are risk factors for uterine cancer:

  • women who are postmenopausal, or reaching menopause late (after age 55)
  • a thickened wall lining (endometrial hyperplasia)
  • women who have never been pregnant
  • starting periods early (before age 12 years)
  • high blood pressure
  • diabetes
  • being overweight or obese.
  • family history of ovarian, uterine, or bowel cancer
  • having a genetic condition such as Cowden syndrome or Lynch syndrome
  • previous ovarian tumours, or polycystic ovary syndrome
  • using oestrogen only hormone replacement therapy or fertility treatment
  • previous radiation therapy to the pelvis
  • taking tamoxifen to treat breast cancer.

It is important for women to know their risk factors and talk about them with health professionals if concerned. Knowing cancer risk factors can prompt an individual to make lifestyle choices that may decrease cancer risk and improve overall health.

How to reduce your risk

You may be able to minimise your risk of developing uterine cancer by maintaining a healthy weight.

Obesity is a major risk factor for developing endometrial cancer. The relationship between obesity and cancer is stronger for endometrial cancer than for any other type of cancer. Over 50% of endometrial cancers are attributable to obesity.

The oral contraceptive pill and the use of an intrauterine device are also linked to a lower risk of uterine cancer.

Early detection is important for uterine cancer. If you notice any persisting symptoms, you should present to a GP as soon as possible. Abnormal uterine bleeding is a frequent symptom in its early stages.

If you wish to receive regular information, resources, reassurance and inspiration for up-to-date care that is in line with the latest research, please subscribe to my blog via the form above, or like Dr Andreas Obermair on Facebook.

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