Although it is often a sensitive topic to discuss, being obese puts women at a higher risk for developing — and dying from— endometrial cancer.
Despite recent remarkable advances in treating cancer, the number of women diagnosed with — and dying from — endometrial cancer is increasing alongside the number of Americans who are overweight and obese.
According to the American Cancer Society’s 2016 Cancer Statistics, there is a discrepancy between overall cancer rates among men (which have decreased 3.1 percent per year between 2009 and 2012) versus overall cancer rates among women (which have remained constant).
Angeles Alvarez Secord, professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Duke University School of Medicine, recently led a meta-analysis that better solidified the correlation between obesity and risk of developing or dying from endometrial cancer by evaluating more than 1,000 studies from the United States and United Kingdom.
“Obesity is a known risk factor for endometrial cancer, with obese women having a two- to five-fold higher incidence of endometrial cancer,” the study’s authors wrote. “In addition, 62 percent of American women are overweight or obese.”
The analysis showed that women who were obese, meaning they had a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher, not only had a higher chance of developing endometrial cancer, but also had a much poorer prognosis once diagnosed.
“[Women who are obese] did have a worse clinical outcome, and it was really in the group of women with the highest BMI of over 40 that had the worst risk,” Secord said in an interview with CURE.
In the study, Secord and her colleagues wrote that there are numerous factors that could contribute to poor outcomes for this patient population. Factors include the possibility of radiation therapy being compromised for obese patients, as well as the increased probability of the existence for co-morbidities, such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension, respiratory disease and cardiovascular disease, which was reported to be the leading cause of death among endometrial cancer survivors.
“It’s a hard topic to bring up because people have made weight conditions to be something about self confidence and self esteem,” Secord said. “There’s so much information about body shaming and talking to someone about a weight-related issue, but the problem is that people are dying from obesity.”
However, Secord is optimistic and hopes that the findings from this study will guide future research.
“Our hope is that in the next generation, we don’t have children who are obese,” she said.
Also, Secord mentioned that adults have a variety of online and in-person tools that can help them live healthier lifestyles. For example, Duke Cancer Institute was awarded a grant to fund a program that would recruit women with endometrial cancer and a BMI over 30 to do at-home exercise and training programs. Cardiovascular markers will be taken before and after the program, and Secord hopes that this will give these women a better outcome.
“Whether it’s preventing cardiovascular-related disease or other medical causes, we want this to be a teachable moment,” Secord said.