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.