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Lifelong excess weight almost doubles risk of womb cancer

Study author said: "Links between obesity and womb cancer are well-known."

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By Chris Dyer via SWNS

Lifelong excess weight almost doubles a woman’s risk of developing womb cancer, warns new research.

For every five extra BMI units, a woman’s risk of endometrial cancer was almost doubled to an increase of 88 percent in the group studied.

The study found the increase higher than most previous research suggested and reflects lifelong weight status rather than a snapshot in time like most other investigations.

Overweight couple with son, outdoors
The information gained will be used to help reduce the risk of cancer in people struggling with obesity. (Altrendo Images/Shutterstock)

Five BMI units is the difference between the overweight category and the obese category, or of a 5 feet, 5-inch adult woman being 28 pounds heavier.

Womb cancer is one of the cancer types most closely linked with obesity.

It’s the most common gynecological cancer in high-income countries.

More than 650,000 obesity-associated cancers occur in the United States each year, including more than 200,000 among men and 450,000 among women, according to the CDC.

Study lead author Emma Hazelwood said: "This study is an interesting first step into how genetic analyses could be used to uncover exactly how obesity causes cancer, and what can be done to tackle it.

"Links between obesity and womb cancer are well-known but this is one of the largest studies which has looked into exactly why that is on a molecular level.

"We look forward to further research exploring how we can now use this information to help reduce the risk of cancer in people struggling with obesity."

One patient who suffered from womb cancer first started experiencing bleeding in 2013 and put it down to menopause.

Despite urges from her daughter to get checked out, Kath [surname withheld] carried on doing the job she loved – working as a bra fitter.

But just before Christmas in 2013, she had a heavy bleed which prompted her to make an appointment with the doctor.

A month later Kath went to her GP and was referred for a biopsy, where she was diagnosed with womb cancer.

Kath said: “When you hear the word cancer your mind runs riot and I was thinking: ‘Am I going to live to see my grandchildren grow up?’

“I felt sick as I didn’t know what was going on. It was as though I was in a dream. I was devastated when I found out and cried with my husband holding my hand.”

Kath’s cancer was caught at the earliest possible stage, which meant she could have life-saving surgery which removed her ovaries and cervix.

The operation removed all the cancer, which meant she didn’t need radiotherapy or chemotherapy, and she is now cancer-free.

Kath said: “After finishing my treatment I wanted to make some changes.

“We don’t know what caused my cancer, but I have to admit that I was carrying a few extra pounds. So now I exercise and eat better to be healthier. I also wanted to be a role model for my family.

“It’s worrying to see that womb cancer rates are on the rise, and although weight isn’t the only risk factor, I want to encourage other women to live healthily so that fewer women go through what I went through.”

The international study from the University of Bristol, UK, looked at genetic samples from around 120,000 women from Australia, Belgium, Germany, Poland, Sweden, the UK, and the USA of which around 13,000 had womb cancer.

This large statistical analysis is one of the first studies of its kind to look at the effect of lifelong greater BMI on womb cancer risk.

Researchers looked at markers of 14 traits, which could link obesity and womb cancer and uncovered two hormones - fasting insulin and testosterone – which increased the risk of being diagnosed with womb cancer.

By pinpointing exactly how obesity increases the risk of cancer, such as through hormones, scientists in the future could use drugs to reduce or increase the level of these hormones in people already at a higher risk of cancer.

For example, drugs like metformin used in diabetes treatment can reduce the levels of hormones and research suggests this drug also affects cancer risk, though further study is ongoing, the researchers said.

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