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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.