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What are the risk factors?

The exact cause of cancer of the uterus is unknown, but some factors seem to increase a woman’s risk:

  • being over 50
  • being postmenopausal
  • having endometrial hyperplasia
  • never having children or being unable to have children
  • starting periods early (before age 12)
  • reaching menopause late (after age 55)
  • being overweight or obese and/or having diabetes
  • having high blood pressure (hypertension)
  • a family history of uterine, ovarian or bowel cancer
  • inheriting a genetic condition such as Lynch syndrome or Cowden syndrome
  • previous ovarian tumours or polycystic ovary syndrome
  • taking oestrogen hormone replacement without progesterone
  • previous pelvic radiation for cancer
  • taking tamoxifen, an anti-oestrogen drug used for breast cancer (talk to your doctor if you are concerned about this risk).

Many women who have risk factors don’t develop cancer of the uterus, and some women who get cancer have no risk factors.

Other uterine conditions

Other conditions can affect the uterus and cause abnormal vaginal bleeding and pain. They may be found during tests for uterine cancer.

Polyps – Small, soft growths attached to the inner wall of the uterus. Polyps are usually benign (non-cancerous), although some may eventually turn into cancer.
These can be removed during a hysteroscopy and sent to a laboratory for testing.

Fibroids – Benign (noncancerous) tumours that begin in the muscle layer of the uterus (myometrium). Some women with fibroids choose to have surgery to remove the uterus (hysterectomy).

Endometrial hyperplasia – Thickening of the lining of the uterus (endometrium) caused by too much oestrogen. It is usually benign, but in some cases can lead to cancer so may be treated with hormones or minor surgery.

Endometriosis – When endometrial tissue grows outside the uterus, e.g. in the abdomen or ovaries. Endometriosis doesn’t lead to cancer, but many women with endometriosis also have endometrial hyperplasia. It may be treated with hormones or surgery.

This information is reviewed by

This information was last reviewed March 2019 by the following expert content reviewers: A/Prof Alison Brand, Director, Gynaecological Oncology, Westmead Hospital, NSW; Kate Barber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Victoria; Prof Jonathan Carter, Director, Gynaecological Oncology, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, NSW; Dr Robyn Cheuk, Senior Radiation Oncologist, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, QLD; Dr Alison Davis, Medical Oncologist, Canberra Region Cancer Centre, The Canberra Hospital, ACT; Kim Hobbs, Clinical Specialist Social Worker, Westmead Hospital, NSW; Nicole Kinnane, Nurse Coordinator, Gynaecology Oncology, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Jennifer Loveridge, Consumer; Pauline Tanner, Gynaecology Cancer Nurse Coordinator, WA Cancer & Palliative Care Network, North Metropolitan Health Service, WA.