Research News

Obesity is blamed for large rise in uterine cancers in UK

BMJ 2016; 353 doi: (Published 13 April 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;353:i2093
  1. Zosia Kmietowicz
  1. The BMJ

Rising levels of obesity among women in the United Kingdom have been linked to a 54% increase in uterine cancer rates during the past two decades, figures from Cancer Research UK have shown.

In the early 1990s, roughly 19 women in every 100 000 developed the disease, but this figure rose to 29 women in every 100 000 during 2011 to 2013.

Currently, roughly 9000 women have uterine cancer diagnosed every year in the UK, compared with 4800 new cases 20 years ago. Every year 2000 women die from the disease in the UK, although survival has improved.

Jonathan Ledermann, director of the Cancer Research UK and UCL Cancer Trials Centre, said, “It’s worrying that womb cancer cases are going up so sharply. We don’t know all the reasons why. But we do know that about a third of cases are linked to being overweight, so it’s no surprise to see the increases in womb cancer cases echo rising obesity levels.”

Ledermann continued, “The good news is that thanks to research and improved treatments, 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.”

Evidence has shown that extra fat in the body can raise cancer risk by producing hormones and growth factors that encourage cells to divide. Insufficient exercise and taking hormone replacement therapy are also risk factors but are linked to fewer cases of womb cancer than obesity. A woman’s age and genetic make-up can also affect her risk.

Julie Sharp, head of health information at Cancer Research UK, said, “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. 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.”

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