What are the risk factors for endometrial cancer?
We do not yet know what causes most cases of endometrial cancer. But we do know that certain risk factors are linked to this disease. A risk factor is anything that changes (raises or lowers) a person's chance of getting a disease such as cancer. Different cancers have different risk factors. For example, being in strong sunlight without protection is a risk factor for skin cancer. Smoking is a risk factor for many cancers. Some risk factors, like your age or race, can't be changed. Others, like smoking and diet are under your control.
But risk factors don't tell us everything. Someone can have several risk factors and still not get a disease. Also, not having any risk factors doesn't mean that you won't get the disease. Even if a woman with endometrial cancer has one or more risk factors, there is no way to know which, if any, of these factors played a part in her cancer.
Things that affect a woman's hormone balance play a part in most endometrial cancers, but other factors can also affect a women’s risk of this disease. Factors that increase the risk of endometrial cancer include:
- Taking estrogen without progesterone, such as to treat the symptoms of the change of life (menopause)
- Having more menstrual cycles, either from starting to have menstrual periods at a younger age or going through menopause at a later age
- Being overweight or obese
- Tamoxifen therapy
- Ovarian tumors that make estrogen
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome
- Getting older
- Having a mother or sister with endometrial cancer
- A genetic syndrome called hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer (also known as Lynch syndrome)
- A high-fat diet
- Having had ovarian or breast cancer
- Being treated with radiation therapy to the pelvis
- Endometrial hyperplasia, which is an overgrowth of cells lining the uterus, especially if it’s “atypical”
Some factors lower the risk of endometrial cancer, including:
- Birth control pills
- Using an IUD (intrauterine device)
- Physical activity and exercise
Last Medical Review: 02/09/2015
Last Revised: 02/04/2016