Uterine Cancer: Risk Factors and Prevention

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 12/2022

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

What are the risk factors for uterine cancer?

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 that may help you minimize your cancer risk.

The following factors may raise the risk of developing uterine cancer:

  • Age. Uterine cancer most often occurs after age 50. The average age at diagnosis is 60. Uterine cancer is uncommon before age 45.

  • Obesity. Fatty tissue in people 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 70% of uterine cancer cases are linked to obesity. Learn more about body weight and cancer risk.

  • Race. Black women have a higher chance of being diagnosed with advanced uterine cancer. Black women and Hispanic women also have a higher risk of developing more aggressive tumors.

  • Genetics. Uterine cancer may run in families where colon cancer is hereditary. As explained in the Introduction, people 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 with endometrial cancer should have their tumor tested for Lynch syndrome, even if they have no family history of colon 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 more about Lynch syndrome and genetic testing in separate sections of this website.

  • Type 2 diabetes. A person may have an increased risk of uterine cancer if they have type 2 diabetes, which is often associated with obesity (see above).

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

  • Tamoxifen. People taking the drug tamoxifen (Nolvadex) to reduce the risk of developing breast cancer or a breast cancer recurrence have an increased risk of developing uterine cancer. The benefits of tamoxifen usually outweigh the risk of developing uterine cancer, but anyone who is prescribed tamoxifen should talk with their doctor about their personal benefits and risks.

  • Radiation therapy. Previous radiation therapy for another cancer in the pelvic area, which is the lower part of the abdomen between the hip bones, increases the risk of uterine cancer.

  • Diet/nutrition. Eating foods high in animal fat may bring 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:

  • Hair straightening products. People who have used hair straightening products, also called relaxers, may be at increased risk for developing uterine cancer. Research has shown this risk may be higher for people who use these products frequently.

Are there ways to prevent uterine cancer?

Different factors contribute to different types of cancer. Researchers continue to investigate what factors cause uterine cancer, including ways to prevent it. Although there is no proven way to completely prevent uterine cancer, you may be able to lower your risk. Talk with your health care team 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. This 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, which is associated with an increased risk. Using a combination of estrogen and progesterone for HRT may help lower risk. However, combined HRT is associated with breast cancer risk.

  • Maintaining a healthy weight, ideally a BMI less than 25.

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

Learn more about cancer prevention and healthy living.

The next section in this guide is Symptoms and Signs. It explains what changes or medical problems uterine cancer can cause. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.