Cases of Uterine Cancer Are Rising
Most cancer rates, both occurrence and survival trends, are getting better. More women, however, are dying from uterine cancer— especially women of color.
For most types of cancer, incidence and survival trends are headed in the right direction. Rates of cases and deaths for many cancer types, including non-Hodgkin lymphoma, colorectal (colon), and lung cancers, are on the decline. The news isn't as positive for uterine cancer.
Rates of new uterine cancer cases rose an average of 0.6 percent each year from 2010 to 2019, according to data from the National Cancer Institute. Death rates rose an average of 1.7 percent per year during the same period.
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Death rates by uterine cancer type
Uterine cancer is fatal when it goes undiagnosed and spreads to other parts of your body. Survival rates for uterine cancer are high, however, when the cancer does not spread outside of your uterus.
Driving increased death rates is an aggressive form of the disease called non-endometrioid uterine cancer. These cancers don't arise from the endometrium — the tissue lining the uterus — like endometrioid cancers do. Non-endometrioid uterine cancers tend to grow faster and are more aggressive.
While deaths from endometrioid cancer remained stable between 2010 and 2017, rates of non-endometrioid cancer deaths rose 2.7 percent per year during that same time frame, according to a study published in JAMA Oncology.
It's important to put these rising rates into perspective because uterine cancer is still relatively rare compared to other cancer types. It accounts for only about 3 percent of all new cancer cases. About 65,950 people are diagnosed with uterine cancer each year, compared to nearly 288,000 new cases of breast cancer.
The outlook for women with uterine cancer differs by race. Although white women are more likely to develop this cancer than are women of other races, black women are often diagnosed at a later stage, once the cancer has already spread.
Black women in the JAMA Oncology study were twice as likely to die from uterine cancer overall, and from non-endometrioid subtypes, compared to women of other races. But Hispanic women had the most rapid increase in death rates from these more aggressive uterine cancer types, at 6.7 percent per year.
Hair straighteners increase uterine cancer risks
Several factors can increase the risk of developing uterine cancer. Some of these risks, such as your age, race, and genes, aren't under your control. Others are from exposures in the environment over which you do have some control.
A study, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, found that women who use hair straightening products more than four times a year are more than twice as likely to develop uterine cancer than women who don't use these products. Hair straighteners contain chemicals such as formaldehyde that could contribute to the development of cancer.
About 60 percent of the study participants who used hair straighteners were black women. This is an especially important finding, given that this group of women is already at higher risk of dying from uterine cancer.
"Because black women use hair straightening or relaxer products more frequently and tend to initiate use at earlier ages than other races and ethnicities, these findings may be even more relevant for them," said Jung Chang, PhD, study author and research fellow in the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Epidemiology Branch.
What you can do
The negative trends in uterine cancer cases and deaths highlight the need for awareness among women, especially those who are in higher risk groups. Early detection and early treatment are important for a favorable diagnosis.
Uterine cancer risk factors you can do something about include:
- Control your weight. About 70 percent of uterine cancer cases are linked to obesity.
- Know your family history. Up to 5 percent of women with uterine cancer have an inherited condition called Lynch syndrome.
- Eat a primarily plant-based diet. A diet high in animal fats could increase the risk for uterine cancer.
- Ask your doctor about using hormonal birth control. Taking birth control pills or using a hormone-releasing intrauterine device (or IUD) might lower your risk for this cancer.
- Avoid chemical hair products. Regular use of hair straighteners has been linked to an increased risk of uterine cancer.
- Control your blood sugar. People with uncontrolled type 2 diabetes are more likely to develop this cancer.
January 26, 2023
Janet O'Dell, RN