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Endometrial cancer claims the lives of about 8000 women in the US annually. The number has been increasing and it is still the fourth most common type of cancer in women. It is also the most common type of cancer of the female reproductive tract, but it usually affects women of older age.
Research has shown that obesity increases the risk of endometrial cancer up to ten times. Since recent studies link obesity to the regular consumption of sugar sweetened beverages (SSB) or sugary drinks, researchers wondered if this habit could be a factor in the increasing number of women suffering from this disease.
What is Endometrial Cancer?
The uterus has an inner lining of cells called the endometrium. An abnormal or malignant proliferation of cells in this layer of cells can develop in a condition called endometrial cancer, otherwise known as uterine cancer, or cancer of the uterus.
Endometrial cancer is most commonly associated with hormonal imbalance, where estrogen is increased and progesterone is decreased. This condition is called type 1 endometrial cancer. A less common type of uterine cancer is the estrogen-independent or type 2 endometrial cancer.
Hormonal imbalance is common among women over the age of 50, most of whom are postmenopausal women. It is therefore no wonder that endometrial cancer is more common among these women than those younger than 50. It has also been found to be more common among obese women. Since fat cells produce extra estrogen but does not make progesterone, hormonal imbalance can result. Other risk factors associated with endometrial cancer include estrogen intake without progestin intake, use of tamoxifen (hormonal treatment for breast cancer), and having a history of early menstruation and late menopause. Women who have never given birth or breastfed and younger women who have a condition called Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) have also been found to be at risk for uterine cancer.
Common symptoms of endometrial cancer include vaginal bleeding not related to menstruation, pelvic pain, painful urination, and pain during sex.
Obesity and Endometrial Cancer
In addition, an increased level of the hormone insulin, which is common to obese individuals, has also been linked to PCOS, another risk factor for endometrial cancer in pre- and post-menopausal women. Insulin is a hormone produced by the body in response to high sugar levels in the blood after eating.
Many studies suggest that obesity is a risk factor involved in many diseases and various types of cancer, including endometrial cancer. Reviews of epidemiological studies demonstrate that the incidence of endometrial cancer is ten times higher in Western countries, where obesity is also high. One study suggests that chronic inflammation in the cells, which is associated with obesity, may be another mechanism which can explain the development of tumors.
These findings suggest that nutrition and lifestyle factors that lead to obesity may also influence the development of other serious diseases such as endometrial cancer. This has also led scientists to look into specific factors, such as consumption of sugar sweetened beverages, which is often linked to weight gain and obesity.