Fat, diabetes may fuel fatal uterine cancer

Public Health Sciences Division researchers find weight and diabetes may increase endometrial cancer death rates
Dr. Victoria Chia
Dr. Victoria Chia, formerly of the Cancer Prevention Program, co-authored a study that found a link between a history of obesity and diabetes and increased risk of mortality from endometrial cancer. Photo by Stephanie Cartier

The numbers from the American Cancer Society are grim: there will be approximately 39,080 new cases of uterine cancers this year and some 7,400 deaths. Now research at the Hutchinson Center into the most common of these cancers — endometrial cancer, which begins in the lining of the uterus — is shedding new light on ways women may reduce their risk of mortality. Controlling weight and diabetes might be a key.

The new study, co-authored by the Cancer Prevention Program's Drs. Victoria Chia and Polly Newcomb, appears in the March/April International Journal of Gynecologic Cancer. The researchers found that a history of obesity and diabetes might increase the risk of death after an endometrial-cancer diagnosis. However, patients may be able to improve their odds by modifying habits that may have shaped their health.

For the study, the researchers gathered data from 745 eligible women aged 40-79, diagnosed between 1991-1994 with incident invasive endometrial cancer. They looked for characteristics like prediagnosis obesity, diabetes, smoking, oral contraceptive use, parity and postmenopausal hormone use during the 10 years the women were followed.

The link between hormones and endometrial cancer risk is well established, but there have been limited studies about any role of hormones and other factors in survival after a diagnosis of this cancer.

Because fat tissue can be the source of hormones, these may accelerate tumor progression. Diabetes is also associated with changes in some growth enhancing hormones, again possibly decreasing survival. The American Cancer Society funded this study.

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