Uterine cancer is divided into two main types: endometrial cancer and uterine sarcoma. The risks of developing each of these cancers and the ways to help prevent them are different.
Risk factors for endometrial cancer
The risk of developing endometrial cancer rises the longer that your body is exposed to the hormone estrogen. It is also most commonly diagnosed after menopause.
Increased exposure to estrogen can result from:
- Early menstruation (starting your period at a young age)
- Late menopause
- Never being pregnant
- Use of estrogen-only hormone therapy to treat symptoms related to menopause or for use after the removal of one’s ovaries. This risk increases the longer the medication is taken.
Other risk factors for endometrial cancer include:
- Endometrial hyperplasia (thickening of the endometrium)
- Use of the drug Tamoxifen for more than two years, particularly after menopause
- Obesity, weight gain, metabolic syndrome, or diabetes
- Certain genetic conditions, such as Lynch syndrome or Cowden syndrome
Risk factors for uterine sarcoma
Because uterine sarcoma is so rare, it is difficult to know what puts people at risk for it. However, we do know that it is most often diagnosed around age 60, and that it may be associated with past radiation therapy to the pelvis, as well as use of Tamoxifen (a breast cancer drug) for more than five years.
Uterine and endometrial cancer prevention
There are no standard screenings for uterine cancer. If you are concerned about your uterine cancer risk, talk to your gynecologist. The following factors may decrease the risk of uterine cancer:
- Use of hormonal contraceptives (birth control) that combine estrogen and progestin. This protective effect increases with the length of use.
- Weight loss and regular physical activity can decrease the chance of having other risk factors, such as diabetes or metabolic syndrome.
If you have uterine or endometrial cancer, we offer a range of leading-edge treatments.
Learn how we treat uterine and endometrial cancer at Penn Medicine