Ask Eve
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Weight and womb cancer

If you're living with a form of womb cancer, then no doubt you heard in the news yesterday  from Cancer Research UK. They reported that there is a rise in the number of women being diagnosed with womb cancer,  and that this rise is being linked to the increase in the number of women being overweight.

Sally Davies, chief medical officer for England suggested that obesity should be one of the conditions we should aim to reduce to keep women healthy.

So what's the link?

The link is the hormone oestrogen, which women store in their adipose (fat) tissue. Research shows us that if the endometrium (womb lining) is exposed to oestrogen, it can in fact promote the cells to change, quickly divide and become cancerous.

However, if we have a balance in our bodies of another hormone, in this case progesterone, then oestrogen is not likely to promote the cancerous change.  

This is why women aren’t prescribed oestrogen on it’s own, For example, when taking HRT, they are prescribed a combined preparation (oestrogen and progesterone). Some women may take oral oestrogen and have a local delivery of progesterone to the endometrial lining via a mirena coil (a coil that slowly delivers progesterone).

Therefore, not all womb cancers are caused by an excess of oestrogen, but avoiding obesity will certainly help a woman reduce her risk and reduce her risk of diabetes, heart disease and other weight related conditions. 

Most importantly women should report ANY change in their bleeding pattern, or bleeding after their menopause to their doctors, it could be an early indication of womb cancer , a very treatable cancer if caught early . 


1 Reply

Dear All,

I have several immediate reactions to this press release.

The first is a huge urge to warn other women that unusual bleeding pre-menopause can also be suspicious because womb cancer can happen pre-menopause, as well as post-menopause. In fact, the cause is more likely to be masked pre-menopause because your doctor - as did mine - might well put the strange bleeding patterns down to a thyroid problem, fibroids or simply the erratic cycles that often come with peri-menopause. My doctor failed to diagnose endometrial cancer for 18 months while we explored the state of my thyroid gland, the size and misbehaviour of various fibroids, my blood pressure and various other potential causes. Only after many months did she think to send me for the very simple test (a scrape) that revealed the truth.

My second thought is that I am very bored and fed-up with the emphasis on weight as a factor. I may be over-reacting here but it has shades of "blame the victim". I did put on a lot of weight as I approached the age of 50, but then it transpired that I did have a very under-active thyroid. However, I feel that I cannot go around telling everyone about this and if others assume I brought my cancer on myself by eating too many cakes, then they will continue to be too complacent about their own risks and too judgemental about the reasons why I succumbed to cancer.

My third thought is that I had a lot of problems with my fertility and we ended up not being able to have children - after much heartache and many years of "trying" including with medical intervention from fertility experts. My infertility was "unexplained", but was put down to a deficiency in some of the hormones that support pregnancy, including progesterone. I would be really pleased if there were more research into the long-term effects of hormonal imbalances (on things like migraine as well as cancer risks etc) because IVF and HRT are not the answer to everything. We all have finely balanced internal systems and what is right for me is not necessarily what is right for you.

So my final message here is "If something is not normal for YOU, do not be deterred - nag your doctor until s/he has it investigated! Just because it is normal for others does not mean it is normal for you!"