Research indicates that the increase in obesity in the U.S. can be correlated with the rise in uterine cancer deaths.
More women in the U.S. are developing and dying from uterine cancer than ever before – and obesity is one reason why.

IT’S A HEADLINE THAT NO one wants to read, especially those of us in medicine: “More women in the United States are developing and dying from uterine cancer than they were 20 years ago, and African-American women are at an increased risk.” But in late 2018, variations of this headline were splashed across the front pages of many medical and mainstream publications. Though uterine cancer is the most common cancer that can occur in a woman’s reproductive organs, it isn’t discussed as frequently as breast cancer or cervical cancer in women. But the fact that a recent report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates it’s among the few cancers that are on the rise should have us all taking a pause to discuss why – and perhaps more importantly, what we can do to reverse the trend.

What Is Uterine Cancer?

Adenocarcinoma and sarcoma are treated differently, but there is one thing they have in common: There is currently no screening test to routinely detect them in their early stages, unlike what exists for cervical cancer (a Pap smear) and breast cancer (a mammogram). The disease is not routinely screened for during a woman’s annual physical.

Uterine cancer occurs when healthy uterus cells change and grow, which forms an abnormal mass called a tumor. Some uterine tumors are benign, meaning they are not cancerous. These can include fibroid tumors and polyps. When uterine tumors are malignant, they usually fall into two uterine cancer types: adenocarcinomas and sarcomas. Adenocarcinoma is most common – comprising the vast majority of uterine cancer types – and develops from endometrial cells. The endometrium is the inside layer that lines the uterine “walls.” Sarcoma, on the other hand, is far less common than adenocarcinoma and develops in the myometrium or muscle layer of uterine lining.

Plus, the symptoms may not outwardly present themselves during the cancer’s initial stages.[The symptoms associated with uterine cancer cancer can include:

  • abnormal vaginal bleeding
  • painful or difficult urination
  • painful intercourse or pelvic pain

This means uterine cancer may not be detected until its late stages, when the cancer is harder to cure. These factors can contribute to a proportionally higher death rate, but they alone cannot account for all of the factors involved in the rise. In fact, the CDC researchers believe, based on a review of the evidence, that the increase in obesity in the U.S. can be correlated with the rise in uterine cancer deaths. And these recent reports indicated that African-American women were twice as likely to die from uterine cancer compared to women of other race and ethnicity types. Research suggests that they received a diagnosis at a later cancer stage and tended to develop a more aggressive cancer type.

Reducing the Risk of Uterine Cancer

So what can you or the women you love do? First, because abnormal vaginal bleeding is a critical sign of early-stage uterine cancer, it’s an important one to watch for. “Abnormal bleeding” is classified as bleeding outside of a normal menstrual cycle. So if you’re bleeding between periods, after sexual intercourse or after menopause, these are all signs that warrant a discussion with your doctor as soon as possible. And while researchers further study the connection between obesity and uterine cancer incidence, you can help reduce your risk by achieving or maintaining healthy body weight, proper diet and getting plenty of daily exercise.

No matter the cancer type, treatment at the earliest stages of disease is connected to a more favorable outcome and lower death rate. And we all know that what we put into our bodies and how frequently we move them has a significant impact on our overall health and wellness, which can reduce the risk for not only uterine cancer but a host of other cancer types, as well. Be vigilant about your health, ladies. As is often said of many important things, “don’t put it on the back burner” and let it simmer there. We can entirely reverse this upsetting uterine cancer trend. We’ve done it with other cancer types, and we can do it with this one. But education is key, and we must remain vigilant.

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