Obesity epidemic blamed for rise in womb cancer

Behind the Headlines

Wednesday April 13 2016

Surgery is the main treatment for womb cancer

The rate of womb cancer has risen by 87% since the mid 90s

"Obesity 'likely culprit' behind womb cancer rise," reports BBC News.

Cancer Research UK has released data showing a marked increase in cases of womb cancer over the last two decades, and it seems obesity could be the reason for the rise.


The statistics on womb cancer

Data compiled by Cancer Research UK shows that during the mid-1990s there were around 4,800 new cases of womb cancer diagnosed in the UK each year. This figure has now risen to around 9,000 cases per year .

This upward trend in womb cancer rates matches a similar trend in the rates of obesity in UK women.

Warning signs of womb cancer

The most common symptom of womb cancer is abnormal bleeding from the vagina.

Bleeding may start as light bleeding accompanied by a watery discharge, which may get heavier over time. Most women diagnosed with womb cancer have been through the menopause, so any vaginal bleeding will be unusual.

While unusual vaginal bleeding can have a wide range of causes, it is a symptom that always needs further assessment. See your GP as soon as possible.

Read more about the symptoms of womb cancer.

The outlook for most womb cancer cases are relatively good. More than 75 out of every 100 women (75%) will survive for 10 years or more after diagnosis. Many of these women will have been cured of their cancer.


Obesity and womb cancer

There are three main hypotheses for why obesity may increase a woman's risk of womb cancer:

  • oestrogen – fat cells can produce excess amounts of the hormone oestrogen, which may stimulate abnormal cell growth
  • insulin – this fat-associated hormone has also been linked to abnormal cell growth
  • inflammation – obesity can increase the amount of a type of immune cell known as macrophages and these can encourage cells to divide – yet again increasing the risk of abnormal cell growth

Of course, it could be the case that all three factors are involved.


Preventing womb cancer

One of the most effective ways of reducing your risk of womb cancer is to achieve or maintain a healthy weight, through a combination of exercise and a healthy diet. This should also reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes, which is another risk factor for womb cancer.

The NHS Choices Weight Loss plan can help you lose weight in a safe and sustainable way. 

Edited by NHS Choices

Links to the headlines

Obesity 'likely culprit' behind womb cancer rise. BBC News, April 13 2016

Soaring obesity in women causes womb cancer cases to DOUBLE in just 20 years. Mail Online, April 13 2016

Obesity epidemic is fuelling rise in womb cancer, charity warns. The Guardian, April 13 2016

Soaring obesity in UK fuels sharp rise in womb cancer. The Daily Telegraph, April 13 2016

Further reading

Cancer Research UK. Obesity behind big rise in womb cancer – Press Release. April 2016

Smith E, on behalf of Cancer Research UK. How exactly does obesity cause cancer? Three leading theories. April 2016


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