Waist size can increase womb cancer risk

Cancer Research UK

The average British woman, who has a 34 inch waist, is more likely to develop womb cancer than her slimmer sisters.

Women with a waist measurement of more than 34 inches have nearly double the risk of womb cancer than women whose waist is 31 inches or less - according to a Cancer Research UK international study published* online today.

The risk of endometrial cancer (lining of the womb) is also almost doubled in women who have put on more than 44 pounds since the age of 20.

Obese women (those with a body mass index of 30 or more) also have almost double the risk of this kind of cancer compared to women of normal weight (those with a BMI between 19 and 25).

In each of these instances the risk of developing endometrial cancer increased by between 75-78 per cent according to the study. This equates to the risk increasing from one woman in 73 to one in 40.

The study, part-funded by Cancer Research UK and the Medical Research Council and published today by the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) scientists, analysed data from 223,000 women in 10 European countries to conclude that obesity, abdominal fat and adult weight gain had a strong link to endometrial cancer risk.

The study also found that the link was particularly strong in postmenopausal women and those who had never taken hormone replacement therapy nor used the contraceptive pill.

Dr Lesley Walker, Cancer Research UK’s director of cancer information, said: “According to the National Sizing Survey conducted in 2004 the average British woman now has a 34 inch waist which is over six inches bigger than the average size of a woman in the 1950s when it was 27.5 inches.

"Today’s women are larger than they were when they existed on a wartime diet and were generally more active and this is having serious consequences for their health. The results of this study confirm that women carrying excess weight are much more likely to develop endometrial cancer than those women who are a normal weight."

*Cancer Causes and Control: Anthropometric Factors and Risk of Endometrial Cancer: the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition

Study author Professor Christine Friedenreich, of the Alberta Cancer Board in Canada, said: "This large study has provided very strong evidence that obesity and fat distribution increase endometrial cancer risk. It also found that there is a particularly strong risk among obese women who have never used hormone replacement therapy or oral contraceptives. This finding will need additional investigation in future studies to confirm this result"

Professor John Toy, medical director of Cancer Research UK, said: “While the general link between obesity and cancer is known, this study adds specific evidence that overweight women face a significantly increased risk of endometrial cancer.

"Cancer Research UK’s Reduce the Risk campaign aims to raise awareness of how we can all help to prevent cancer by improving our lifestyles. Keeping a healthy weight by eating a low-fat, high-fibre diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables and taking regular exercise is one way to combat cancer risk."

ENDS

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Notes to Editor

More than 5,500 women a year are diagnosed with endometrial cancer and around 1,000 women a year die from the disease. Between 1993 and 2002 incidence had risen by 19 per cent.

A Body Mass Index (BMI) between 25 and 30 indicates being overweight. A BMI over 30 indicates obesity.

Half of all cancers could be prevented by changes to lifestyle. Cancer Research UK’s Reduce the Risk campaign has five simple messages to help people reduce their risk of cancer. These are:

  • Stop smoking: this is the best present you will ever give yourself
  • Stay in shape: cut your cancer risk by keeping a healthy weight
  • Eat and drink healthily: limit alcohol and maintain a healthy diet
  • Be SunSmart: protect yourself from the sun and harmful UV rays
  • Look after number one: be aware of any body changes and go for screening.

For further information on Reduce the Risk click here.

The Medical Research Council is dedicated to improving human health through excellent science. It invests on behalf of the UK taxpayer. Its work ranges from molecular level science to public health research, carried out in universities, hospitals and a network of its own units and institutes. The MRC liaises with the Health Departments, the National Health Service and industry to take account of the public's needs. The results have led to some of the most significant discoveries in medical science and benefited the health and wealth of millions of people in the UK and around the world.

For more information on the Medical Research Council click here.