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. However, 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 which can increase the risk of uterine cancer. This risk increases with an increase in body mass index (BMI; the ratio of a person's weight and height).
Race. White women are more likely to develop uterine cancer than black women.
Genetics. Uterine cancer may run in families where colon cancer is hereditary. Learn more about the genetics of colorectal cancer. For instance, women in families with hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC), or Lynch syndrome, have a higher risk for uterine cancer. Read about HNPCC.
Other health conditions. Women may have an increased risk of uterine cancer if they have had endometrial hyperplasia or if they have diabetes.
Other cancers. Women who have had breast, colon, 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. However, the benefits of tamoxifen may outweigh the risk of developing uterine cancer, so women should discuss the benefits and risks of tamoxifen with their doctor.
Radiation therapy. Women who have had previous radiation therapy in the pelvic area (the lower part of the abdomen between the hip bones) for another cancer 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. Longer exposure to estrogen and/or an imbalance of estrogen is relevant to many of the following risk factors:
- Women who started having their periods before age 12 and/or go through menopause later in life
- Women who take hormone replacement therapy (HRT) after menopause, especially if they are only taking estrogen; the risk if lower for women taking estrogen with another sex hormone called progesterone.
- Women who have never had children
Research has shown that certain factors can lower the risk of uterine cancer:
- Taking birth control pills, especially over a long period of time
- Considering the risk of uterine cancer before starting HRT, especially estrogen replacement therapy
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- If diabetic, maintaining good self-care, such as regularly monitoring blood glucose levels