Strenuous Exercise May Protect Overweight Middle-Aged Women from Endometrial Cancer

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • One of the additional worries women have is they go through menopause is the increased risk of developing endometrial cancer. According to the Mayo Clinic, the risk of this type of cancer increases with age. Furthermore, the majority of endometrial cancer occurs in older women who have gone through the menopausal transition.

    So what is endometrial cancer? This cancer begins in the uterus’s lining, which is called the endometrium. Because of this, the Mayo Clinic notes that endometrial cancer is sometimes referred to as uterine cancer. This type of cancer is often detected at an early stage since it often causes abnormal vaginal bleeding that prompts women to talk to their doctors. Other symptoms include vaginal bleeding after menopause, an abnormal, watery or blood tinged discharge from the vagina, pelvic pain and pain during intercourse. Surgery to remove the uterus often cures this type of cancer if the endometrial cancer is discovered early.

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    Currently, medical professionals don’t know what triggers this type of cancer, although whatever it is causes a genetic mutation that turns normal healthy cells into abnormal cells. These abnormal cells form a tumor that invades nearby tissues. Furthermore, the abnormal cells can separate from the initial tumor and spread to other parts of the body.

    There are additional risk factors for this disease besides going through menopause and getting older. Additional risk factors include never having been pregnant, having your period at an early age or beginning menopause later, being obese, having taken hormone the hormone therapy drug tamoxifen as treatment for breast cancer, or having inherited colon cancer syndrome.

    So is there a way to possibly lower your risk of this cancer? Yes! A new study out of the Beckman Research Institute of the City of Hope in Duarte, California offers a suggestion about what a menopausal woman can do to protect herself. This study involved 93,888 participants who were part of the California Teachers Study. Of those, 976 were diagnosed with endometrial cancer between 1995 and 2007.

    The researchers found that increased strenuous recreational physical activity at the start of the study was associated with decreased endometrial cancer risk. In fact, women who exercised strenuously more than 3 hours per week over the course of the year had approximately 25 percent lower risk than women who exercised less than one-half hour per week over the course of the year. Interestingly, this association was observed among overweight and obese women but not among thinner women. Furthermore, overweight and obese women who participated in moderate or strenuous activity throughout the study had a lower risk of being diagnosed with this type of cancer.

    These findings have caused researchers to hypothesize that there may be two mechanisms in exercise that cause the reduction in endometrial cancer risk. One is through helping women lose weight. The second mechanism is that exercise may directly reduce circulating estrogen levels.

  • The Mayo Clinic suggests that there may be other ways to lower your risk. These include:

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    • Be careful about hormone therapy. Replacing estrogen along after you’ve gone through menopause can increase the risk of endometrial cancer, unless you’ve had a hysterectomy. However, a combination of estrogen and progestin may reduce this risk. Therefore, it’s important to talk to your doctor about which – if any – hormone therapy you should take as well as the potential benefits and risks (such as a possible increase in the risk of getting breast cancer).
    • Consider birth control pills. Oral contraceptives that are taken for at least one year are believed to lower endometrial cancer risk for several years after you stop taking these birth control pills. However, be sure to talk to your doctor since oral contraceptives do have side effects.

    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

    Dieli-Conwright, C. M., et al. (2013). Long-term and baseline recreational physical activity and risk of endometrial cancer: the California Teachers Study. British Journal of Cancer.

    Harding, A. (2013). Exercise may cut endometrial cancer risk for heavy women. MedlinePlus.

    Mayo Clinic. (2013). Endometrial cancer.

Published On: August 16, 2013