Risk factors for uterine cancer
A risk factor is something that increases the risk of developing cancer. It could be a behaviour, substance or condition. Most cancers are the result of many risk factors. But sometimes uterine cancer develops in women who don’t have any of the risk factors described below.
In Canada, the
Atypical endometrial hyperplasia is a precancerous condition of the uterus. It isn’t cancer, but it can sometimes become uterine cancer if it isn’t treated. Some of the risk factors for uterine cancer may also cause atypical endometrial hyperplasia. Find out more about precancerous conditions of the uterus.
Risk factors are generally listed in order from most to least important. But in most cases, it is impossible to rank them with absolute certainty.
Risk factors @(Model.HeadingTag)>
Estrogen-only hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
Radiation therapy to the pelvis
Estrogen-producing ovarian tumours
Low levels of physical activity
There is convincing evidence that the following factors increase your risk for uterine cancer.
Estrogen-only hormone replacement therapy (HRT) @(Model.HeadingTag)>
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) uses female sex hormones (estrogen, progesterone or both) to manage the symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes, vaginal dryness and mood swings. Research shows that using HRT with estrogen alone (without progesterone) increases the risk for uterine cancer. Taking estrogen combined with progesterone (called combined HRT) does not increase a woman’s risk for uterine cancer.
Number of menstrual periods @(Model.HeadingTag)>
Women who have a higher number of menstrual periods during their lifetime have a greater risk of developing uterine cancer. This includes women who start having their period before the age of 12 (called early menstruation or early menarche) or their period stops after the age of 55 (called late
Never giving birth @(Model.HeadingTag)>
Women who never give birth to a child are 2 times more likely to develop uterine cancer than women who give birth at least once. During pregnancy, estrogen levels in the body are lowered. The more times a woman gives birth, the less estrogen her body makes and the lower her risk of developing uterine cancer.
Overweight or obesity @(Model.HeadingTag)>
Women who are overweight or obese have a higher risk of developing uterine cancer. Those with a high amount of body fat can be up to 10 times more likely to develop uterine cancer.
Researchers don’t know the exact reason why overweight or obesity increases the risk for uterine cancer. It could be because having too much fat tissue raises the level of estrogen in the body, and too much estrogen increases the risk for uterine cancer. Obese people often have higher levels of insulin and insulin-like growth factor-1 in their blood, which can help some tumours grow. The risk for uterine cancer is even higher in overweight or obese women who have hypertension or diabetes.
Tamoxifen (Nolvadex, Tamofen) is a
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) @(Model.HeadingTag)>
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is caused by changes to normal hormone cycles and the normal ovulation process. Many women with polycystic ovaries have few periods, or none at all, and may have difficulty getting pregnant. Women with PCOS have a higher risk of developing uterine cancer.
Diabetes (also called diabetes mellitus) is a chronic disease that leads to high blood sugar levels. Women with diabetes are about 2 times more likely to develop uterine cancer compared to women without the disease. Women with diabetes who are also obese or have high blood pressure have an even higher risk for uterine cancer.
Radiation therapy to the pelvis @(Model.HeadingTag)>
Radiation therapy is used to treat certain cancers or bleeding from the uterus caused by a non-cancerous (benign) condition. Women who have high-dose radiation to the pelvis have a higher risk of developing uterine cancer.
Estrogen-producing ovarian tumours @(Model.HeadingTag)>
Women with ovarian tumours that make estrogen have a higher risk for uterine cancer due to the higher estrogen levels.
Low levels of physical activity @(Model.HeadingTag)>
Women who don’t get much physical activity have a higher risk of developing uterine cancer. Being active seems to protect against uterine cancer.
Lynch syndrome @(Model.HeadingTag)>
Lynch syndrome (also called hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer or HNPCC) is an
Women with Lynch syndrome have a greater risk of developing uterine cancer in their lifetime. Women with Lynch syndrome tend to develop uterine cancer at a younger age than women in the general population.
Cowden syndrome @(Model.HeadingTag)>
Cowden syndrome is an inherited condition that can cause many non-cancerous growths (called hamartomas) to form in the skin, breast, thyroid, colon, small intestine and mouth. Cowden syndrome is caused by a mutation in the PTEN gene. It increases the risk for uterine cancer.
Possible risk factors @(Model.HeadingTag)>
The following factors have been linked with uterine cancer, but there is not enough evidence to show for sure that they are risk factors. More research is needed to clarify the role of these factors for uterine cancer.
- not being physically active (having sedentary habits)
- family history of uterine cancer
- high blood pressure (hypertension)
- contact with diethylstilbestrol (DES), which is a form of estrogen that is made in a lab
- high glycemic load, which is a measure of how quickly certain amounts of food raise blood sugar levels
No link to uterine cancer @(Model.HeadingTag)>
Significant research shows that there is no link between intrauterine devices (a type of birth control) and a higher risk for uterine cancer.
Questions to ask your healthcare team @(Model.HeadingTag)>
Expert review and references
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