Uterine Cancer: Risk Factors and Prevention

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 06/2017

ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about the factors that increase the chance of developing this type of cancer. Use the menu to see other pages.

A risk factor is anything that increases a person’s chance of developing cancer. Although risk factors often influence the development of cancer, most do not directly cause cancer. Some people with several risk factors never develop cancer, while others with no known risk factors do. Knowing your risk factors and talking about them with your doctor may help you make more informed lifestyle and health care choices.

The following factors may raise a woman’s risk of developing uterine cancer:

  • Age. Uterine cancer most often occurs in women over 50; the average age is 60.

  • Obesity. Fatty tissue in women who are overweight produces additional estrogen, a sex hormone that can increase the risk of uterine cancer. This risk increases with an increase in body mass index (BMI), which is the ratio of a person's weight to height. About 40% of uterine cancer cases are linked to obesity.

  • Race. White women are more likely to develop uterine cancer than women of other races/ethnicities. However, black women have a higher chance of developing advanced cancer. Black and Hispanic women also have a higher risk of developing aggressive tumors.

  • Genetics. Uterine cancer may run in families where colon cancer is hereditary. For instance, women in families with Lynch syndrome, also called hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC), have a higher risk for uterine cancer. It is recommended that all women under the age of 60 with endometrial cancer should have their tumor tested for Lynch syndrome even if they have no family history of bowel cancer or other cancers. The presence of Lynch syndrome has important implications for women and their family members. About 2% to 5% of women with endometrial cancer have Lynch syndrome. In the United States, about 1,000 to 2,500 women diagnosed with endometrial cancer each year may have this genetic condition. Read about Lynch syndrome.

  • Diabetes. Women may have an increased risk of uterine cancer if they have diabetes, which is often associated with obesity (see above).

  • Other cancers. Women who have had breast cancer, colon cancer, or ovarian cancer have an increased risk of uterine cancer.

  • Tamoxifen. Women taking the drug tamoxifen (Nolvadex) to prevent or treat breast cancer have an increased risk of developing uterine cancer. The benefits of tamoxifen usually outweigh the risk of developing uterine cancer, but all women who are prescribed tamoxifen should discuss the benefits and risks with their doctor.

  • Radiation therapy. Women who have had previous radiation therapy for another cancer in the pelvic area, which is the lower part of the abdomen between the hip bones, have an increased risk of uterine cancer.

  • Diet. Women who eat foods high in animal fat may have an increased risk of uterine cancer.

  • Estrogen. Extended exposure to estrogen and/or an imbalance of estrogen is related to many of the following risk factors:

    • Women who started having their periods before age 12 and/or go through menopause later in life. Learn more about menopause and cancer risk.

    • Women who take hormone replacement therapy (HRT) after menopause, especially if they are taking estrogen alone. The risk is lower for women who take estrogen with progesterone, which is another sex hormone.

    • Women who have never been pregnant.

Prevention

Different factors contribute to different types of cancer. Researchers continue to investigate what factors increase risk for this type of cancer. Although there is no proven way to completely prevent this disease, you may be able to lower your risk. Talk with your doctor for more information about your personal risk of cancer.

Research has shown that certain factors can lower the risk of uterine cancer:

  • Taking birth control pills. Birth control pills have a combination of estrogen and progesterone that are taken cyclically to produce a monthly menstrual period, which reduces the risk of an overgrowth of the uterine lining, especially when taken over a long period of time.

  • Using a progestin-secreting intrauterine device (IUD), which is a form of birth control.

  • Considering the risk of uterine cancer before starting HRT, especially estrogen replacement therapy alone. Using a combination of estrogen and progesterone for HRT may help lower risk.

  • Maintaining a healthy weight.

  • If you have diabetes, good disease management, such as regularly monitoring blood glucose levels, can lower risk.

The next section in this guide is Symptoms and Signs. It explains what body changes or medical problems this disease can cause. You may use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.