While several uterine cancer risk factors have been identified, it is important to note that these factors do not always cause cancer. Many women have multiple risk factors and never develop cancer. On the other hand, some women with cancer have no known risk factors. Even if a woman with uterine cancer exhibits one or more risk factors, it is impossible to know which, if any, directly led to the development of her cancer.
With all of that said, a woman’s risk of developing uterine cancer increases as she gets older, especially after age 60. One reason is the hormonal imbalances that occur after menopause. A shift in the delicate balance of estrogen and progesterone that is weighted more heavily toward estrogen can sometimes lead to abnormal cellular development in a woman’s uterine lining, or endometrium.
Some known uterine cancer risk factors involving changing estrogen levels include:
- Estrogen therapy (given without corresponding levels of progesterone) – This treatment is sometimes prescribed to treat the symptoms of menopause, but it can increase a woman’s risk of uterine cancer since it increases the level of estrogen in the body.
- High number of menstrual cycles – Women who have more menstrual cycles during their lifetimes have a higher risk of developing uterine cancer. This includes women who begin menstruating before age 12, women who experience menopause after age 55 and women who have never been pregnant. On the other hand, the use of oral contraceptives can lower that risk by suppressing ovulation and reducing a woman’s estrogen exposure.
- Excess weight and obesity – Fatty tissue in overweight women can produce excess estrogen, and the risk of uterine cancer has been found to rise along with increases in body mass.
- Tamoxifen use – Tamoxifen, which is sometimes prescribed to prevent and treat breast cancer, can act as an anti-estrogen in breast tissue, but as an estrogen within the uterus.
- Ovarian tumors – A specific type of ovarian tumor, the granulosa-theca cell tumor, can produce estrogen and stimulate the endometrium.
Moffitt Cancer Center, the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center based in Florida, continues to lead the way in researching risk factors that can cause healthy endometrial cells to become cancerous. We are proud to offer our patients the latest options in the screening, diagnosis and treatment of uterine cancer treatment in a single location, and all without the need for a referral.