The Causes of Endometrial Cancer

Does uterine cancer get passed down genetically like breast cancer? What other risk factors are involved?

Most often, the term "uterine cancer" almost always refers to endometrial cancer, which is the tissue that lines the uterus and is built up and shed in cycles in women of reproductive age. It is much more rare for a cancerous growth to appear anywhere else in the uterus.

There isn't a specific gene that is associated with endometrial or uterine cancer. The biggest predictor of who will get endometrial cancer is age. It is a disease of older women and the average age is 68 at diagnosis.

Most of the rest of risk of endometrial cancer can be predicted by looking at the woman's amount of exposure to estrogens. The more she is exposed to estrogens, the more the endometrial lining is stimulated, the more likely there will be abnormal growths of cancer. Most exposure to estrogen occurs through either each menstrual cycle they have and/or by taking estrogen drugs.

Some of the risk factors do have a hereditary aspect to them. Beginning menstruation at an early age or starting menopause later in life are risk factors for endometrial cancer (more menstrual cycles). A woman's menstrual history can follow her mother's and thus she will inherit similar risks. Also, having a family history of breast, colon, or ovarian cancer is associated with endometrial cancer. All those cancers have a hereditary component.

Women who are overweight (they store estrogens in their fat), never had children or had them later in life (they have more menstrual cycles) have diabetes or high blood pressure (this may be associated with obesity), take estrogens without progestins, or take the drug tamoxifen have higher rates of endometrial cancer.

On the bright side, taking birth control pills (pills set estrogen lower than natural), exercising regularly (stretches time between cycles), and eating a high soy diet is correlated with a lower risk of this cancer. Smokers also have a lower risk (smoking decreases estrogens), but this is hardly a reason to take up smoking.

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