Cancer Research UK recently published statistics indicating that rising levels of obesity in the United Kingdom contributed greatly to the 54 percent increase in uterine cancer rates observed over the last two decades.
Although the biological and molecular mechanisms behind obesity’s influence on womb cancer are largely unknown, it is believed that the extra fat tissue in the body increases the production of hormones and growth factors that lead to harmful cell division. Obesity is associated with several types of cancer, such as kidney and pancreatic, and one of the strongest links observed is between obesity and breast and uterine (womb) cancers.
Around 18.8 per 100,000 women in the U.K. developed the disease in the early 1990s, a rate that rose to about 29 per 100,000 in 2011–2013, Cancer Research UK reports in a press release. Moreover, some 4,800 new cases of womb cancer were reported each year in the early ’90s, resulting in 1,500 deaths, while 2013 data indicates that 9,000 women are diagnosed annually with womb cancer, and about 2,000 die of the disease.
Professor Jonathan Ledermann, director of the Cancer Research UK and UCL Cancer Trials Centre, said that although the full reasons for the sharp rise are not fully known, about a third of the womb cancers reported were in overweight women.
“The good news is that thanks to research and improved treatments [womb cancer] survival has improved. In the 1970s, almost six in 10 women diagnosed with the disease survived for at least 10 years. Now almost eight in 10 women survive. But we need more research to understand the biology of the disease better and to know more about how it is caused so that we can improve the treatment of these women as well as preventing more cases,” Professor Ledermann said in the release.
The lack of physical activity and hormone replacement therapy are risk factors for womb cancer, linked to around 4 percent and 1 percent of cancer cases, respectively. However, excess weight and obesity remain the prime potentially avoidable risk factors, linked to around 34 percent of uterine cancer cases. Symptoms of this malignancy include abnormal vaginal bleeding, blood in the urine, and abdominal pain.
“It’s concerning that more women are developing womb cancer, but it’s important that they are informed about ways to reduce their risk of the disease. Obesity is linked to 10 different types of cancer, including womb cancer, and is the single biggest preventable cause of the disease after smoking,” said Dr. Julie Sharp, head of health information at Cancer Research UK. “While there are no guarantees against cancer, keeping a healthy weight can help you stack the odds in your favour and has lots of other benefits too.”
If diagnosed early, most uterine cancers can be cured by surgery.