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Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine

 
Risk factors

Most scientists agree that these things affect the risk of uterine cancer. Some may apply to you, but others may not.

Age
Weight
Tobacco use
Birth control pills
Number of births
Age at menopause
Post-menopausal estrogen use
Tamoxifen use
Diabetes
Family history



Age and uterine cancer
The risk of uterine cancer goes up with age. Most cases are diagnosed in women over the age of 60.

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Weight and uterine cancer
Women who maintain a healthy weight have a lower risk of uterine cancer. One reason is that fat tissue affects different hormone levels in the body. Too much fat tissue can lead to higher hormone levels and increase the risk of cancer.

People who maintain a healthy weight also have a lower risk of colon cancer, kidney cancer, pancreatic cancer, heart disease, diabetes and stroke.


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Tobacco use and uterine cancer
Women who smoke over a pack of cigarettes per day have a lower risk of uterine cancer. However, smoking has so many other harmful effects that the risk of early death is increased overall.

Cigarette smoke contains chemicals that damage the genetic structure (DNA) of the body's cells and can cause them to become cancerous. People who smoke have a higher risk of many types of cancer, including leukemia and cancers of the lung, lip, mouth, larynx, esophagus, bladder, stomach and pancreas. Smokers also have a higher risk of diseases like heart disease, diabetes, stroke, bone loss (osteoporosis), emphysema, and bronchitis.


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Birth control pills and uterine cancer
Women who take birth control pills for 5 years or more have a lower risk of uterine cancer. The longer a woman takes the pill, the more her risk decreases.

Birth control pills can have positive and negative effects on a woman's health. If taken for at least 5 years, birth control pills can lower a woman's risk of colon cancer, uterine cancer and ovarian cancer. But while she's taking them, they raise her risk of breast cancer, heart attack and stroke. For some women, they can also cause side effects like nausea and vomiting.

Taking birth control pills and smoking can be a deadly combination. Together, they greatly increase the risk of a heart attack and stroke. All women who smoke should quit for good as soon as possible

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Number of births and uterine cancer
Women who have never given birth have a higher risk of uterine cancer. One reason is that pregnancy changes hormone levels in a way that helps protect uterine cells from becoming cancerous.

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Age at menopause and uterine cancer
Women who go through menopause (when regular periods stop) at a later age have a higher risk of uterine cancer. This is because a late menopause exposes a woman's body to greater amounts of the hormone estrogen over her lifetime. These higher levels of estrogen increase the risk that cells of the uterus will become cancerous.

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Post-menopausal estrogen and uterine cancer
Post-menopausal hormones are medications that help ease the symptoms of menopause, like hot flashes and vaginal dryness. They can contain hormones that are similar to the female reproductive hormones estrogen and progesterone, which the body stops making in large quantities after menopause.

Women who take post-menopausal estrogen alone (without progesterone) have a higher risk of uterine cancer. This is because the high levels of estrogen in a woman's body may cause cells in the uterus to become cancerous.

Post-menopausal hormones can have both positive and negative effects on a woman's health. These hormones may cause abnormal growth of cells, increasing the risk of breast cancer, but different hormones affect risk differently. The combination of estrogen plus progesterone seems to increase breast cancer risk more that estrogen alone, but estrogen alone increases the risk of uterine cancer. In contrast, post-menopausal hormones may lower a woman’s risk of colon cancer and osteoporosis (bone loss). Post-menopausal hormones were once thought to lower the risk of heart attack, but it is now unclear exactly how they affect the risk of heart disease.


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Tamoxifen and uterine cancer
Tamoxifen is a medication prescribed for women at high risk of breast cancer. It blocks the effects of the hormone estrogen in breast tissue and can help reduce the risk of breast cancer. However, this medication also has serious side effects, like increasing the risk of uterine cancer. Tamoxifen is not right for everyone and can only be prescribed by a doctor.

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Diabetes and uterine cancer
Diabetes occurs when the body doesn't make enough insulin or when the body can't use the insulin it makes. Insulin is a hormone that converts food into energy.

Women who have diabetes may have a slightly higher risk of uterine cancer. Scientists aren't sure why. One reason may be that diabetes raises the level of estrogen in a woman's body. Estrogen is a female reproductive hormone mainly released during the menstrual cycle. High levels of estrogen may cause cells in the uterus (womb) to become cancerous.

People who have diabetes also have a higher risk of pancreatic cancer, heart disease and stroke.

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Family History and Uterine Cancer
Women who have a mother or sister with uterine cancer have a higher risk of the disease. This is because some uterine cancers are linked to mutations in the genetic structure (DNA) of the body's cells that can be passed from generation to generation.

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