Understanding Endometrial Cancer -- the Basics

Medically Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD on July 20, 2021

What Is Endometrial Cancer?

Cancer can affect the uterus, the hollow, pear-shaped organ where a baby grows. The uterus is lined with a special tissue called the endometrium. When cancer grows in this lining, it is called endometrial cancer. Most cancers of the uterus are endometrial cancer.

Female Reproductive System

If left untreated, endometrial cancer can spread to the bladder or rectum, or it can spread to the vagina, fallopian tubes, ovaries, and more distant organs. Fortunately, endometrial cancer grows slowly and, with regular checkups, is usually found before spreading very far.

What Are the Risk Factors for Endometrial Cancer?

Endometrial cancer usually happens in women past menopause. More than 95% of endometrial cancer happens in women over 40. Postmenopausal women have a high risk for endometrial cancer if they:

  • Got their first period early
  • Went through menopause late
  • Are obese
  • Have diabetes or high blood pressure
  • Have few or no children
  • Have a history of infertility, irregular periods, or abnormal cells in the endometrium (called endometrial hyperplasia)
  • Have a family history of endometrial, colorectal, or breast cancer

Women taking the drug tamoxifen to treat or prevent breast cancer have a slightly higher risk of endometrial cancer. But women who have taken birth control pills are only half as likely to have endometrial cancer after menopause.

Women who take estrogen-only hormone replacement therapy have a higher risk of developing endometrial cancer. So women who have not had a hysterectomy should not be taking estrogen-only hormone replacement therapy.

Rare ovarian tumors can make estrogen and increase a woman’s chance of having endometrial cancer.

High-fat diets, especially containing red meat, can increase the risk of cancer, including endometrial and colon cancer.

Can Endometrial Cancer Be Prevented?

Most endometrial cancer cannot be prevented. But there are certain things women can do to lower their risk. Taking birth control lowers the risk, but first talk with a doctor about possible pros and cons. Being healthy, eating well, and watching your weight may help lower the risk.

WebMD Medical Reference



American Cancer Society. 

Lebovic, D.; Gordon, J.; Taylor, R.; "Reproductive Endocrinology & Infertility." Scrubb Hill Press, 2005.

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