Obesity Increases Risks of Endometrial Cancer

Focused on Health - September 2008

Marie Brown joined a study in Sept. 2007 to
learn more about how her weight affected
her risks for endometrial cancer.

When Marie Brown, an administrative assistant and mother of three kids, learned about an M. D. Anderson study investigating the relationship between endometrial cancer and obesity, she became interested in learning whether her weight could increase her cancer risk.

“I’m slightly over my ideal weight,” said Marie an active African-American woman who joined the study in Sept. 2007. “I need to know what my health risks are, so that I can be proactive about improving my overall health.”

Karen Lu, M.D., professor in M. D. Anderson’s Department of Gynecologic Oncology, is studying the relationship between weight and endometrial cancer, which is cancer of the uterine lining, by monitoring two groups of women – those who are overweight and those who are within their ideal weight range.

“Because of the increasing obesity rates across the United States, it’s important to find out more about how weight affects a woman’s risk of developing endometrial cancer,” said Lu.

Study participant, Michelle Linares,
learned more about endometrial cancer.

Michelle Linares, a study participant in the ideal weight group, is a research regulations specialist at M. D. Anderson who is always looking for new ways to give back to the institution. “Completing the study was easy,” said Michelle. ”I came away with a feeling of accomplishment, and became more aware of endometrial cancer and its risk factors.”

The endometrial and weight study focuses on the frequency of pre-cancerous and cancerous changes in the endometrium (uterine lining) of overweight women. Women within their ideal body weight range also are being studied to accurately compare differences within these two groups.

“Obesity affects a woman’s estrogen levels, which are believed to play a part in the development of endometrial cancer,” said Lu. “Having more fat tissue increases a woman's estrogen levels, which is believed to increase her risk of developing endometrial cancer.”

Endometrial Cancer Research and Statistics

According to the National Cancer Institute, obese women have a two to four times greater risk of developing endometrial cancer than do women who are within their ideal weight range, regardless of menopausal status.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of people considered obese or overweight in the United States has been dramatically increasing over the past 20 years. More than 64% of U.S. adults are either overweight or obese. Among adult women, the prevalence of obesity from 2005 to 2006 was 35.3%.

Study Eligibility

Joining the study gave study participant Marie Brown, who is slightly over her ideal body weight, the opportunity to help researchers learn more about the risk factors that contribute to the development of endometrial cancer.

“I believe that the more people who participate in studies such as this one,” said Marie, “the more we will learn about how to prevent this disease.”

To participate in the study, women who are within their ideal body weight range must:

  • Have a body mass index (BMI) score of 25 or less (a woman who is 5’4” and weighs 145 pounds has a BMI of 25)
  • Be 30-55 years old at the time of enrollment

Women who are overweight and want to participate in the study must:

  • Have a body mass index (BMI) score of 30 or greater (a woman who is 5’4” and weighs 175 pounds has a BMI of 30)
  • Be 30-55 years old at the time of enrollment

Get Your BMI score by using the CDC online BMI calculator.

Conditions that exclude women in both groups from the study include:

  • Prior hysterectomy
  • Currently taking birth control medication
  • Pregnancy at the time of entering the study
  • History of metastatic cancer (any type)
  • Menopause or no menstrual period for more than one year

Participants are asked to:

  • Undergo an endometrial sampling (tissue is taken from the endometrial lining) to look for any changes commonly associated with endometrial cancer
  • Give blood samples to look for blood markers associated with weight and endometrial cancer
  • Complete a detailed health history survey

“Women can complete these steps in a one-day clinic visit, or over a two-day period,” said Stephanie Boyd-Rogers, senior research nurse for the study.

For information or to enroll in this study, contact Boyd-Rogers at 713-563-4598 or by e-mail at sgrogers@mdanderson.org.

Learn more about obesity trends and endometrial cancer by viewing our podcast located in the multimedia resource box on the right-hand side of this page.