What are the risk factors for endometrial cancer?

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A risk factor is any factor that is associated with increasing someone’s chances of developing a certain condition, such as cancer. Some risk factors can be modified, such as lifestyle or environmental risk factors, and others cannot be modified, such as inherited factors or whether someone in the family has had cancer. 

Having 1 or more risk factors does not mean that a person will develop cancer. Many people have at least 1 risk factor but will never develop cancer, while others with cancer may have had no known risk factors. 

Even if a person with cancer has a risk factor, it is usually hard to know how much that risk factor contributed to the development of their disease. 

Endometrial cancer risk factors

Risk factors for developing endometrial cancer include:[3] 

  • family history – having close relatives with endometrial or colorectal cancer (Lynch syndrome, also known as hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer, or HNPCC), or PTEN hamartoma/Cowden syndrome (also see Genetic testing)
  • mutations in certain genes (see Genetic testing)
  • obesity 
  • having more periods over your lifetime – that is, starting periods at a younger age and reaching menopause at an older age 
  • not having children 
  • taking menopausal hormone therapy (hormone replacement therapy) or tamoxifen 
  • getting older – most women with endometrial cancer are diagnosed when they are between 65 and 69 years of age 
  • eating an unbalanced diet, including foods that have a high fat content and/or glycaemic index (GI) 
  • lack of physical exercise 
  • having diabetes 
  • having non-cancerous uterine conditions such as endometrial hyperplasia and polyps. 

There are several factors that decrease your risk for developing endometrial cancer, including: 

  • drinking coffee 
  • exercising 
  • having children and breastfeeding 
  • taking oral contraceptives (birth control pills). 

The document Risk factors for endometrial cancer: a review of the evidence 2019 provides detailed information about the evidence available for different risk factors. 

Genetic testing

People with faults in the following genes are predisposed to developing endometrial cancer: 

  • MLH1 
  • MSH2 
  • MSH6 
  • PMS2 
  • PTEN. 

If you or a family member is found to have a fault in any of these genes, you may be referred to a clinical genetics service or familial cancer centre. These genes faults are also associated with developing Lynch syndrome (also known as hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer, or HNPCC) or PTEN hamartoma/Cowden syndrome.