There are more than 40,000 new cases of endometrial cancer every year in the United States and more than 7,500 women die annually from this disease. The majority of endometrial cancers are the result of an imbalance between the two major female reproductive hormones: estrogen and progesterone. Estrogen stimulates the endometrium (the lining of the uterus) to grow and progesterone keeps that growth in check. Too much estrogen and/ or too little progesterone and the unruly endometrium can turn cancerous.
Doctors have long known obesity is a risk factor for endometrial cancer. Not only does obesity increase estrogen levels, as fatty tissue converts other steroid hormones into estrogen, but obese women are also less likely to ovulate on a regular basis. This results in a progesterone deficiency as the hormone progesterone is only produced at ovulation.
A new study published in the July issue of Obstetrics and Gynecology sheds more light on the magnitude of the connection between obesity and endometrial cancer, especially for younger women. This study evaluated almost 3,500 women between the ages of 20 and 54. The results – obesity increased the risk of endometrial cancer for all women, but more so for women between the ages of 20 and 45. Based on body mass index or BMI (a BMI of 19-24 is normal), women who were overweight (BMI 25 – 29.9) were almost 3 times more likely to develop endometrial cancer than their normal weight counterparts. Women with a BMI between 30 and 34.9 were 6 times more likely to develop endometrial cancer and those women with a BMI of 35 and older were almost 22 times more likely to develop the disease.
This study coincides with new statistics on obesity released July 1rst from the 2009 F as in Fat: How Obesity Policies are Failing America, report. Currently more than 60% of Americans are overweight or obese and in 30 states more than 30% of children are overweight or obese.
Endometrial cancer is on the rise in younger women and the epidemic of obesity clearly has a major role. The actual risk of endometrial cancer may be as high as 50% for women under the age of 45 who have a BMI or 35 or higher.
Women who are obese or overweight should talk with their OB/GYN about endometrial cancer. The good news is that weight loss dramatically reduces the cancer risk. In the meantime, progesterone supplementation can help prevent endometrial cancer and close observation can catch the disease in its early stage when it is most treatable.
Author, publisher, radio talk show host and internationally recognized expert on women's hormone cycles. Social/political activist on Gardasil the HPV vaccine for adolescent girls. Co-author of "Understanding Your Mood, Mind and Hormone Cycle." Honorary advisory board member for the Foundation for the Study of Cycles and member of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research.