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Women who are currently overweight or have diabetes appear to be at increased risk for developing endometrial cancer, according to a recent report from researchers in Sweden.

Cancer of the endometrium is characterized by the presence of cancer cells in the lining of the uterus, or womb. This common cancer strikes more than 36,000 women each year, a statistic that would be even higher if not for the large number of hysterectomies that are performed for other, non-cancerous conditions. When detected early, most endometrial cancers can be cured with surgery; however, the treatment of advanced disease is more difficult. For this reason, researchers continue to work toward determining what factors may contribute to the development of endometrial cancer so that better strategies for prevention, early detection, and treatment can be designed and implemented. A person who has 1 or more characteristics or exposures, or

risk factors, for a type of cancer has a higher chance to develop that type of cancer than a person who does not have these risk factors. Risk factors can be determined by studying the differences between persons who have and persons who do not have a type of cancer.

Several risk factors have been suggested in association with endometrial cancer, including using hormone (estrogen) replacement therapy for menopause, having early age at first menstrual cycle, having late age at menopause, not bearing children, having a high-fat diet, and being overweight. Researchers in Sweden recently studied the association between endometrial cancer incidence and 3 factors: excess weight, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

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Swedish researchers evaluated 709 women, age 50 to 70 years, who had endometrial cancer and compared their findings to those of 3368 women who did not have endometrial cancer. The women were assessed for the presence of excess weight, diabetes, and high blood pressure at the current time, and also for the presence of these factors in the women’s past, at 18 years of age. The results showed that currently (or recently) overweight women were 3 times as likely, and very overweight women 6 times as likely, as lean women to have endometrial cancer. The presence of high blood pressure further increased this risk. Women who currently (or recently) had diabetes also had a marked increase in risk for endometrial cancer. The women’s weight, blood pressure, and presence of diabetes at age 18 appeared to have no association with endometrial cancer risk.

These researchers concluded that women who currently (or recently) are overweight and/or have diabetes are at an increased risk for developing endometrial cancer. The presence of high blood pressure in these women may further increase this risk.

(Cancer Causes and Control, Vol 11, No 2, pp 185-192, 2000)