Aug. 17, 2023 -- Endometrial cancer is the most common type of uterine cancer, with estimates showing that more than 66,000 women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with this type of cancer in 2023 alone. Now, new research says that type 2 diabetes could be a risk factor for the disease.
A new study from the United Kingdom found that women who have type 2 diabetes have a 1.5% higher risk of dying from endometrial cancer. This is important because traditionally, gynecological cancers can be often be successfully treated, including stage I endometrial cancer, via surgery.
Risk factors for endometrial cancer include a woman’s family history, obesity, early menstruation, late menopause, never having been pregnant, previously having breast or ovarian cancer, and taking drugs like hormonal replacement therapy. Having Lynch syndrome, which means carrying a specific gene mutation, also puts a woman at high risk.
People with type 2 diabetes have been shown to have a worse prognosis in terms of survival rates than other endometrial cancer patients. Chinese researchers have reported that this could be because endometrial cancer can grow and become more invasive in the presence of high glucose, which is a hallmark of type 2 diabetes.
“Type 2 diabetes is related to a phenomenon called insulin resistance. This happens because the body does not respond to insulin much as it previously did. It leads to more insulin being made in order to properly regulate the body’s use of sugar,” said Christina Annunziata, MD, PhD, senior vice president for extramural discovery science for the American Cancer Society and a medical oncologist specializing in women’s malignancies in Fairfax, VA.
More U.K. research found that women with type 2 diabetes have a 62% higher chance of getting endometrial cancer in the first place, with researchers saying that insulin resistance can encourage the growth of cancer cells in these patients.
The average age of patients in this study was 66. Older women are at higher risk for endometrial cancer in general, but older women with diabetes should especially pay attention to their odds.
“I think our findings indicate that a diabetic woman being postmenopausal could be a risk factor for endometrial cancer as well,” said study co-author Emma Crosbie, PhD, professor of gynecological oncology at the University of Manchester in the U.K.
What Are the Symptoms of Endometrial Cancer?
The symptoms of endometrial cancer include:
- Abnormal uterine bleeding: spotting or bleeding after menopause or between periods
As endometrial cancer becomes more advanced, symptoms can include:
- Abdominal pain
- Pelvic pain
- A full abdomen soon after eating
- Bowel changes
- Urinary changes
What Are the Symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes?
Type 2 symptoms can be very mild. Noticeable diabetes symptoms include:
- Having to urinate more often
- Extra thirst
- Feeling extra hungry
- Severe fatigue
- Blurry vision
- Cuts or bruises that take a long time to heal
Preventing Endometrial Cancer When You Have Diabetes
A new Korean study stresses the importance of doctors carefully screening diabetes patients for endometrial cancer, as well as recommending effective prevention strategies.
Women should go to their doctors for regular checkups, plus discuss genetic testing if that is appropriate, namely for women with strong family histories of endometrial cancer.
It’s never too early for a woman to start cutting her risk for endometrial cancer, especially if she has type 2 diabetes. The National Cancer Institute reports that endometrial hyperplasia, or an abnormal thickening of the uterus, can develop into endometrial cancer, so it’s important to catch and treat it quickly.
Other preventative measures that may help:
- Taking prescription birth control pills or using a hormonal contraceptive like an IUD
- Not smoking
Medication may also help.
“A woman with type 2 diabetes can ask her doctor about drugs that ‘sensitize’ to insulin and may be able to lower the level of sugar and insulin in her body,” said Annunziata.
There are also a lot of actions patients can take on their own.
“Lifestyle changes may also improve the body’s use of sugar,” said Annunziata.
Moderate exercise helps lower blood sugar levels, and eating foods with a low glycemic index – meaning less sugary food and less processed food -- also helps.
These changes can help patients feel better – and live a long, healthy life.