When you get a diagnosis of uterine cancer, it’s natural to wonder what may have caused the disease. Doctors usually can’t explain why one woman gets uterine cancer and another doesn’t.
However, we do know that women with certain risk factors may be more likely than others to develop uterine cancer. A risk factor is something that may increase the chance of getting a disease.
Studies have found the following risk factors for uterine cancer:
- Abnormal overgrowth of the endometrium (endometrial hyperplasia): An abnormal increase in the number of cells in the lining of the uterus is a risk factor for uterine cancer. Hyperplasia is not cancer, but sometimes it develops into cancer. Common symptoms of this condition are heavy menstrual periods, bleeding between periods, and bleeding after menopause. Hyperplasia is most common after age 40.
To prevent endometrial hyperplasia from developing into cancer, the doctor may recommend surgery to remove the uterus (hysterectomy) or hormone therapy with progesterone and regular follow-up exams.
- Obesity: Women who are obese have a greater chance of developing uterine cancer.
- Reproductive and menstrual history: Women are at increased risk of uterine cancer if at least one of the following apply:
- Have never had children
- Had their first menstrual period before age 12
- Went through menopause after age 55
- History of taking estrogen alone: The risk of uterine cancer is higher among women who used estrogen alone (without progesterone) for menopausal hormone therapy for many years.
- History of taking tamoxifen: Women who took the drug tamoxifen to prevent or treat breast cancer are at increased risk of uterine cancer.
- History of having radiation therapy to the pelvis: Women who had radiation therapy to the pelvis are at increased risk of uterine cancer.
- Family health history: Women with a mother, sister, or daughter with uterine cancer are at increased risk of developing the disease. Also, women in families that have an inherited form of colorectal cancer (known as Lynch syndrome) are at increased risk of uterine cancer.
Many women who get uterine cancer have none of these risk factors, and many women who have known risk factors don’t develop the disease.