Rising levels of obesity among UK women have helped fuel a 54 per cent increase in womb cancer rates over the last two decades, according to Cancer Research UK’s latest statistics.
In the early 1990s, around 19 women in every 100,000 developed the disease. That figure has now climbed to 29 women in every 100,000 – with obesity being the most likely culprit.1
Around 9,000 women are diagnosed with womb (uterine) cancer every year in the UK, and around 2,000 women die from the disease. Twenty years ago, there were around 4,800 new cases of womb cancer each year with around 1,500 deaths.2
Professor Jonathan Ledermann, director of the Cancer Research UK and UCL Cancer Trials Centre, said: “It’s worrying that womb cancer cases are going up so sharply. We don’t know all the reasons why. But we do know that about a third of cases are linked to being overweight so it’s no surprise to see the increases in womb cancer cases echo rising obesity levels.
“The good news is that thanks to research and improved treatments survival has improved. In the 1970s, almost six in 10 women diagnosed with the disease survived for at least 10 years. Now almost eight in 10 women survive. But we need more research to understand the biology of the disease better and to know more about how it is caused so that we can improve the treatment of these women as well as preventing more cases.”
The science behind how extra weight can cause cancer is not completely clear. But there is evidence that extra fat in the body can raise cancer risk by producing hormones and growth factors that encourage cells to divide.3
A lack of exercise and taking HRT (hormone replacement therapy) are also risk factors – but are linked to fewer cases of womb cancer than obesity4. A woman’s age and genetic make-up can also affect her risk.
Symptoms of womb cancer include abnormal vaginal bleeding – particularly in post-menopausal women – blood in your pee and abdominal pain. The disease is usually diagnosed early, and most women can be cured by surgery.
Kath Bebbington, aged 56 from Stoneclough, Greater Manchester, was diagnosed with womb cancer at the end of 2013 after going to the doctor because she was bleeding between periods. She had a hysterectomy in March 2014.
Kath kick-started her healthy lifestyle after she finished treatment – since then she’s lost three stone. She said: “My cancer diagnosis was a wake-up call for me. It was a shock because I don’t smoke, I don’t drink and I walk a lot. And we don’t know what caused the cancer but I had to admit to myself that I needed to make some life-style changes to lose some extra pounds I had been carrying and stack the odds in my favour for a healthy future.
“So I began eating more healthy food and exercising to feel better and to be a role model for my daughters. I also trained to take part in Race for Life events which I’ve done with my daughters by my side.”
Dr Julie Sharp, head of health information at Cancer Research UK, said: “It’s concerning that more women are developing womb cancer, but it’s important that they are informed about ways to reduce their risk of the disease. Obesity is linked to 10 different types of cancer, including womb cancer, and is the single biggest preventable cause of the disease after smoking. While there are no guarantees against cancer, keeping a healthy weight can help you stack the odds in your favour and has lots of other benefits too.”