About Cancer of the Uterus
What should people know about cancer of the uterus?
The uterus or womb is a pear-shaped organ in a woman's abdomen between the bladder and the rectum. The uterus is the part of the female reproductive system where a baby develops. It consists of the cervix (mouth of the uterus) and the corpus (body); the corpus is made up of the endometrium (inner lining of the uterus) and muscle tissue. Most uterine cancers develop in the endometrium. The information provided below only refers to cancer of the uterine corpus (body), not the cervix.
In New York State, cancer of the uterus is the fourth most common cancer among women. Each year in New York State, about 3500 women are diagnosed with uterine cancer and 600 women die from the disease.
Who gets cancer of the uterus?
Cancer of the uterus is rare before age 45. The incidence of uterine cancer increases sharply between the ages of 45 and 65. Cancer of the uterus occurs more frequently among Whites than Blacks.
What factors increase risk for developing cancer of the uterus?
At this time, the causes of uterine cancer are not well understood. However, scientists agree that certain factors increase a person's risk of developing endometrial cancer. These risk factors include:
- Hormonal factors. Women who start their menstrual periods at a young age, start menopause at a late age, have never been pregnant, have not had full-term pregnancies or had few children are at increased risk of developing uterine cancer.
- Family history. Women whose close relatives (mother, sister, daughter) have had uterine cancer are at higher risk for developing the disease. Also, women with a family history of hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer (also known as Lynch syndrome) are at increased risk of uterine cancer.
- Obesity. Women who are obese are at greater risk for uterine cancer.
- Ionizing radiation. Women who have had radiation therapy to the pelvis for other cancers are at increased risk for uterine cancer.
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). PCOS is a condition in which a woman has an imbalance of female sex hormones. This may lead to menstrual cycle changes, cysts in the ovaries, trouble getting pregnant and other health changes. Women with PCOS are at increased risk of endometrial cancer.
- Hormone use. Long-term use of estrogen only (without progesterone) hormone replacement therapy for menopause increases the risk of developing uterine cancer. The use of combined estrogen-progestin oral contraceptives (birth control pills) has been shown to reduce the risk for developing cancer of the uterus.
- Tamoxifen. Women who took the drug tamoxifen to prevent or treat breast cancer are at increased risk for cancer of the uterus.
What other risk factors for cancer of the uterus are scientists studying?
Scientists are studying other possible personal risk factors for uterine cancer including diet, smoking, alcohol use and physical inactivity. Some studies have shown that women with diabetes are at increased risk for uterine cancer, but others have not. The role that the human papilloma virus (HPV), the virus that causes cervical cancer, may play in the development of uterine cancer is also being examined. Additional research is needed to determine the role, if any, these factors may have in the development of cancer of the uterus.
What can I do to reduce my chances of getting cancer of the uterus?
To help reduce the risk of getting uterine cancer:
- Be aware of your family history and discuss any concerns with your health care provider.
- Choose a healthy diet to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Eat more vegetables, fruits and whole grains and eat less red and processed (e.g., bacon, sausage, luncheon meat, hot dogs) meats. These actions may reduce the risk of developing many types of cancer as well as other diseases.
- Discuss the risks and benefits of medical imaging, such as CT scans, with your health care provider to avoid unnecessary exposure to ionizing radiation. This is particularly true for children.
- Discuss the use of hormone replacement therapy with your health care provider.
How else can I reduce my risk for cancer?
The following may help reduce the risk of developing cancer:
- Do not smoke. If you currently smoke, quit. Avoid exposure to second hand smoke. For more information on quitting smoking, visit the NYS Smoker's Quitline at www.nysmokefree.com or call 1-866-NY-QUITS.
- Exercise regularly.
- Talk with your health care provider about recommended cancer screenings.