By: Jean Johnson for Uterus1
“Overweight and obesity and endometrial cancer?” said Rob Harriman of Portland, Ore. “It doesn’t surprise me. What health problems don’t being too heavy cause? It’s all we hear these days.”
|Know Your Risks|
Women may not be aware that vaginal bleeding once they are through menopause is a symptom of endometrial cancer.
Women over 60 who are overweight or obese are two to three times more at risk for endometrial cancer than their lean counterparts.
The majority of endometrial cancers are in women over 60.
Of 45,000 deaths from endometrial cancer annually, 60 percent are in developed countries.
Perhaps so, but in an effort to raise awareness related to a dramatic rise in endometrial cancer in British women between the ages of 60 and 79, as well as to educate people about symptoms that can lead to early detection, a London epidemiologist with the Cancer Research U.K., Lucy Boyd, released an international report earlier this year.
In the report, Boyd singles out carrying more weight than nature intended as an important risk factor for endometrial or uterine cancer.
“There are good improvements in survival but there is quite a sharp increase in incidence in the age group most affected by the cancer,” said Boyd. “There are general increases in most European countries. However, it is also clear that even more lives would be saved if awareness of this disease were better.”
Endometrial Cancer Rates Rising Sharply
The rise of treatable endometrial cancer Boyd identifies is all the more significant because the rise in incidence has taken place in less than a decade. According to Boyd, while 48 out of 100,000 British women contracted cancer in 1993, by 2001 the figure had risen to 63 out of 100,000.
If Detected Early, Endometrial Cancer Survival Rates High
Over the past three decades, five-year survival rates for endometrial cancer – or womb cancer as the British term this cancer of the uterus – has gone from a mere 16 percent to 77 percent.
Between the medical community’s ability to treat patients and the fact that the cancer has grown more rampant, Boyd’s goal is to get the word out to post-menopausal women.
Symptoms for Endometrial Cancer
Three key early warning signs women over 60 should be vigilant for include:
Abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge, Bleeding after menopause, Low pelvic pain.
According to Boyd, women may not be aware that once they are through menopause, vaginal bleeding is a symptom of uterine cancer. Without this critical awareness, women may tend to dismiss the problem as inconsequential and not consult a physician.
How Endometrial Cancer Develops
When the two hormones produced by the ovaries – progesterone and estrogen – shift in balance toward high levels of estrogen, a woman’s risk for endometrial cancer increases. Thus, anything that raises estrogen levels and exposes the endometrium, or lining of the uterus, to an excess of this hormone can predispose women to endometrial cancer.
Overweight and Obesity
While a number of factors can predispose women to endometrial cancer, being overweight or obese are getting considerable attention. The fact that over the past decade an epidemic of obesity has established itself in the developed world only reinforces this concern.
“Evidence suggests that the risk of endometrial cancer is two to three times higher for overweight and obese women,” Boyd’s report said. The correlation makes sense because, according to a Mayo Clinic primer on endometrial cancer, “fat tissue can change some hormones into estrogen… [More] some scientists even think that fatty foods may directly affect estrogen metabolism further increasing a women’s risk of endometrial cancer.”
Other Risk Factors
Boyd also noted that women who have had breast cancer and taken Tamoxifen for the disease are at greater risk for endometrial cancer.
Other factors that can lead to endometrial cancer include many years of menstruation (which expose the endometrium to more estrogen), never having been pregnant, irregular ovulation, obesity, taking estrogen-only hormone replacement therapy, and ovarian tumors.
Hysterectomy is the standard treatment for uterine cancer. If the disease is caught early enough, removal of the uterus is sufficient to eliminate the problem. If, however, the cancer has advanced to the stage where it may have spread, radiation and chemotherapy may also be needed.
In sum, Boyd hopes women across the globe take heed.
“We feel it is vitally important to raise awareness of this disease and encourage women to look out for early symptoms,” Boyd said. “Survival rates would be even better if more women reported their symptoms to their doctor at an earlier stage.”