Risk Factors

Factors that May Increase the Risk of Uterine Cancer

Any diagnosis of cancer raises multiple questions and concerns for both patients and their loved ones. Information and education may allay some concerns as patients and their families come to terms with the diagnosis. They can then begin to understand the potential causes and risk factors, treatment options, and overall prognosis. Uterine cancer, the most common of which is endometrial cancer, often affects females over the age of 60 although there are rare instances of endometrial cancer occurring in women at younger ages. Similar to most types of cancer, early detection is critical to the patient's expected outcome and treatment options. Medical professionals and researchers have yet to determine an exact cause for endometrial cancer, but there is substantial knowledge regarding risk factors that may increase the risk of developing cancer.

Symptoms of uterine cancer are frequently noted in the earlier stages given the prevalence of unexplained vaginal bleeding with the diagnosis. Other symptoms may include pelvic pain or vaginal discharge following menopause. At earlier stages, before cancer has metastasized to other areas of the body, surgery is often the recommendation and preference for treating this diagnosis. By removing the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries, physicians are better able to evaluate the extent of cancer and help prevent it from returning.

Risk factors associated with uterine cancer include advanced age, young age of onset of menstruation, having undergone certain types of hormone therapy, and conditions resulting in higher than average levels of estrogen in the body. In addition to the effects on a range of other physical conditions, obesity and diabetes are also thought to contribute to the development of cancer. Estrogen is closely linked with this type of cancer given that the hormone frequently leads to an excess buildup in the uterine lining or endometrium. Natural or organic conditions that lead to an increased production of estrogen that is not in balance with levels of progesterone can increase the risk. Additionally, the post-menopausal use of hormones to treat symptoms of menopause (that only contain estrogen) can elevate the level of risk.

Never having been pregnant, as well as beginning one's period early or experiencing late menopause, are additional risk factors. An increased number of periods over a lifetime subsequently raise the exposure a female has had to estrogen. Tamoxifen, a hormone therapy drug used to treat breast cancer, is also a risk factor patients have in common. Women should determine in collaboration with their doctor what the benefits of Tamoxifen would be, with the knowledge that a small increased risk of developing cancer may occur.