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What are the risk factors?

The exact cause of cancer of the uterus is unknown, but factors that can increase the risk include:

  • age – uterine cancer is most common in women over 50 and in women who have stopped having periods (postmenopausal)
  • body weight – being overweight or obese is a major risk factor; the higher your body mass index (BMI), the greater the risk
  • medical factors – having diabetes; having previous pelvic radiation therapy for cancer; having endometrial hyperplasia
  • family history – having one or more close blood relatives diagnosed with uterine, ovarian or bowel cancer; or inheriting a genetic condition such as Lynch  syndrome or Cowden syndrome
  • reproductive history – not having children
  • hormonal factors – starting periods before the age of 12; going through menopause after the age of 55; taking some types of oestrogen-only menopause hormone therapy (MHT), previously called hormone replacement therapy (HRT); or taking tamoxifen, an anti-oestrogen drug used for breast cancer.

Many women who have risk factors don’t develop cancer of the uterus, and some women who get this cancer have no risk factors. If you are concerned about any risk factors, talk to your doctor. Maintaining a healthy body weight and being physically active are the best ways to reduce the risk of developing cancer of the uterus.

Other uterine conditions

Some 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 (not cancer), although some may eventually turn into cancer. These can be removed during a hysteroscopy and sent to a laboratory for testing.

Fibroids – Benign tumours that begin in the muscle layer of the uterus (myometrium). They may be treated with 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. It doesn’t lead to cancer, but many people also have endometrial hyperplasia. Endometriosis may be treated with hormones or surgery.

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Understanding Cancer of the Uterus

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This information is reviewed by

This information was last reviewed March 2021 by the following expert content reviewers: A/Prof Jim Nicklin, Director, Gynaecological Oncology, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, and Associate Professor Gynaecologic Oncology, The University of Queensland, QLD; Dr Robyn Cheuk, Senior Radiation Oncologist, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, QLD; Prof Michael Friedlander, Medical Oncologist, The Prince of Wales Hospital and Conjoint Professor of Medicine, The University of NSW, NSW; Kim Hobbs, Clinical Specialist Social Worker, Gynaecological Cancer, Westmead Hospital, NSW; Adele Hudson, Statewide Clinical Nurse Consultant, Gynaecological Oncology Service, Royal Hobart Hospital, TAS; Dr Anthony Richards, Gynaecological Oncologist, The Royal Women’s Hospital and Joan Kirner Women’s and Children’s Hospital, VIC; Georgina Richter, Gynaecological Oncology Clinical Nurse Consultant, Royal Adelaide Hospital, SA; Deb Roffe, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA.