A lifelong excess weight gain nearly doubles the risk of developing womb cancer in women, finds new research. The findings of the study are published in ‘BMC Medicine’.
The research from the University of Bristol is one of the first studies to find that for every 5 extra BMI units, a woman’s risk of womb (endometrial) cancer is almost doubled to an increase of 88 per cent. This is more than the most previous studies have suggested and shows lifetime weight status rather than a snapshot in time like most other studies. The difference between the overweight category and the obese category is 5 BMI units or of a 5’5 adult woman being two stones heavier. According to an international study it is observed that at genetic samples from around 120,000 women from Australia, Belgium, Germany, Poland, Sweden, the UK, and the USA of which around 13,000 had womb cancer. It is one of the large statistical analysis and one of the first studies to look at the effect of lifelong increased BMI on womb cancer danger.
There are 14 traits that the researchers looked as the marker traits that could link obesity and womb cancer. They revealed two hormones – fasting insulin and testosterone – which enlarged the risk of being identified with womb cancer.
Scientists may be able to use drugs to reduce or increase the level of these hormones in people who are already at a higher risk of cancer if they can pinpoint exactly how obesity increases the risk of cancer, such as through hormones. For example, drugs used to treat diabetes, such as metformin, can lower hormone levels, and research suggests that this drug may also affect cancer risk, though more research is needed.
Womb cancer is one of the cancers that has been linked to obesity the most. It is the most common gynaecological cancer in high-income countries and the fourth most common cancer for women in the UK, with 1 in 36 women diagnosed in their lifetime. Furthermore, it is estimated that approximately one-third of all womb cancer cases in the UK are men. Excess weight is thought to be the cause of more than one in every twenty cancer cases in the United Kingdom.
Emma Hazelwood, lead author of the paper said, “This study is an interesting first step into how genetic analyses could be used to uncover exactly how obesity causes cancer, and what can be done to tackle it. Links between obesity and womb cancer are well-known but this is one of the largest studies which has looked into exactly why that is on a molecular level. We look forward to furthering research exploring how we can now use this information to help reduce the risk of cancer in people struggling with obesity.”
Dr Julie Sharp, head of health information at Cancer Research UK said, “Cancer Research UK has been leading the way in uncovering links between obesity and cancer for years. Studies like this bolster the fact that being overweight or obese is the second biggest cause of cancer in the UK and can help us start to pinpoint why. This will play a pivotal role in uncovering how to prevent and treat cancer in the future.”
“More research is needed to investigate exactly which treatments and drugs could be used to manage cancer risk among people struggling with obesity. We already know that being overweight or obese increases your risk of developing 13 different types of cancer. To reduce your cancer risk, it’s important to maintain a healthy weight by eating a balanced diet and staying active,” Sharp added.
When Kath first noticed bleeding in 2013, she chalked it up to menopause. Despite her daughter’s pleas to have her checked out, she continued to work as a bra fitter in Debenhams Trafford. But, just before Christmas in 2013, she experienced a heavy bleed, prompting her to visit the doctor. Kath went to her GP in January 2014 and was referred to Royal Bolton Hospital for a biopsy. She was told she had womb cancer.
“When you hear the word cancer your mind runs riot and I was thinking: ‘Am I going to live to see my grandchildren grow up?'” Kath said.
“I felt sick as I didn’t know what was going on. It was as though I was in a dream. I was devastated when I found out and cried with my husband holding my hand.”
Thankfully, Kath’s cancer was caught at the earliest possible stage, which meant she could have life-saving surgery which removed her ovaries and cervix. The operation removed all cancer, which meant she didn’t need radiotherapy or chemotherapy, and she is now cancer-free. But her journey did not end there.
“After finishing my treatment I wanted to make some changes,” Kath said.
“We don’t know what caused my cancer, but I have to admit that I was carrying a few extra pounds. So now I exercise and eat better to be healthier. I also wanted to be a role model for my family.” Kath takes part in CRUK’s Race For Life every year, raising both money and awareness about cancer.
“Reading some of the words on people’s backs about why they were running brought it all back to me about how important this is,” Kath said.
“My daughter’s notes said: ‘Running for our Mum who beat womb cancer!'”
“It’s worrying to see that womb cancer rates are on the rise, and although weight isn’t the only risk factor, I want to encourage other women to live healthily so that fewer women go through what I went through. “I hope that my story helps others make a change in their life,” Kath concluded.