Cancer of the womb (uterus) occurs when normal cells lining the womb change and become malignant. It affects the female’s reproductive system and the way her womb works.
Also referred to as uterine cancer and endometrial cancer, womb cancer begins in the cells that make up the lining of the womb (called the endometrium). In some cases, womb cancer can also start in the muscles surrounding the womb which is called uterine sarcoma.
The exact causes of endometrial womb cancer are unknown. But, there are some factors that might increase the risk of developing it. These relate to the body’s exposure to the female sex hormone, oestrogen or to the balance between oestrogen and progesterone.
In majority of cases, most women diagnosed with womb cancer have had their menopause. The cancer form is most common in women between the age of 60 and 79 years. Women with a genetic defect known as HNPCC are more likely than other women to develop it at a younger age.
Women who are obese are at higher risk of developing womb cancer than those with a normal weight. A Cancer Research UK study suggests that being overweight causes around a third of womb cancers. This is because overweight women have higher levels of oestrogen. Oestrogen builds up in the lining of the womb and puts women at greater chance of the disease. Being overweight can sometimes make one resistant to insulin, which is another reason of an increase in the risk of developing womb cancer.
Diet plays an important role in the development of womb cancer. Those who eat a high fat diet have a higher risk of developing womb cancer. Isoflavones (found in soya based foods) have been reported to block some of the effects of oestrogen and may help reduce the risk.
Menstruation can cause prominent levels of oestrogen and increase your risk of developing womb cancer. The factors related to menstrual history that increase the risk of womb cancer include infertility due to failure of ovaries, a late menopause, failing to release an egg every month (ovulate), having longer than average periods, not having menstrual cycles/having them often and irregular bleeding during and after the menopause.
Polycystic ovary syndrome
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a condition where cysts grow in the ovaries. Women with the syndrome suffer a hormone imbalance which may cause irregular periods. They have an increased risk of womb cancer as compared to women who don’t have PCOS. An Australian research suggested that women under 50 who have PCOS are at 4 times the risk of womb cancer than women of the same age who do not have PCOS.
Diabetes is associated with being overweight and so may be connected with womb cancer.
Not having children
Women who haven’t had children, or who are unable to conceive, are at greater risk of acquiring womb cancer. The reason being – oestrogen in the body is low during pregnancy, and the level of progesterone is high.
The risk factors for womb cancer are mainly determined by the amount of hormone oestrogen subjected to the womb lining. Having a risk factor doesn’t mean you will get the cancer.
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