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Preventing endometrial cancer - is it possible?

16 September 2013

Endometrial cancer (cancer of the womb lining) is known to be associated in many cases with being overweight, since an imbalance of hormones and growth factors which then stimulate the womb lining can be produced in fat cells. But can maintaining a healthy weight prevent this common disease? According to a new report, it is estimated that 59% of the cases of endometrial cancer (about 29,500 annually in the United States) could be prevented if women engaged in physical activity for at least 30 minutes per day and maintained a healthy body weight, with a body mass index (BMI) from 18.5 to 25.0 kg/mē.

The Endometrial Cancer 2013 Report, which was published by the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) and World Cancer Research Fund International (WCRF), also notes that coffee consumption reduces the risk.

Increasing evidence has suggested a link between cancer risk and physical activity and body weight. Physical activity and a healthy body weight have been associated with a reduced risk for a number of cancers, including breast, prostate, and colon.

But in the case of endometrial cancer, the relation is quite striking. Currently it is thought that 7 of 10 American women are overweight or obese, and more than half do not get enough exercise to protect themselves against endometrial cancer.

The researchers also found that a high glycemic load, a diet rich in sugar-laden drinks and processed foods high in carbohydrates boosted the risk of developing the disease; it seems that diets that contain a lot of processed foods and sugary drinks can make a difference in the metabolic environment.

Coffee consumption is also associated with a reduced risk for endometrial cancer. Although too much caffeine can affect sleep quality and have other detrimental effects such as on bone health, this study shows that moderate amounts of coffee can be part of a healthy diet, and drinking decaffeinated coffee was also protective.

However, despite the increasing number of studies linking lifestyle and weight to cancer risk and the subsequent media coverage, many people are still unaware of the connection. Surveys have shown that while many people are aware that being overweight increases the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease, about half do not see it as a risk factor for cancer.

For someone who is sedentary and overweight, change can be a daunting task. Weight loss should be viewed as a long-term effort, not something that needs to be done immediately. Changes should be made gradually both for weight loss and for increasing exercise. This report did find that activity of all types is important, not just recreational but occupational as well. Physical activity can be done in short bursts of time, even during the work day - go for a 15-minute walk, get up from your desk periodically, take the stairs instead of the lift. It is possible to work physical activity into daily life, even if you have a sedentary job.

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