Early diagnosis and treatment have improved survival rates for uterine cancer but researchers said on Tuesday there had been a sharp rise in the disease in older women.
Cases of cancer of the uterus, or womb, in women aged 60-79 in Britain have risen by 30 percent in less than a decade. Other European countries are seeing similar trends.
“There are good improvements in survival but there is quite a sharp increase in incidence in the age group most affected by the cancer,” said Lucy Boyd, an epidemiologist at the charity Cancer Research UK in London, and the author of the report.
“There are general increases in most European countries,” she added in an interview.
There are several reasons for the increase of uterine cancer in older women. Increased body weight, early puberty, late menopause and oestrogen-only hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can increase the risk of developing the illness.
“Evidence suggests that risk of endometrial cancer is 2-3 times higher for overweight and obese women,” the report said.
The breast cancer drug tamoxifen also increases the odds of developing uterine cancer, which usually begins in the lining of the uterus called the endometrium.
Detecting cancer of the uterus early when it is most treatable has pushed five-year survival rates to 77 percent in Britain, a rise of 16 percent in the past 30 years.
Hysterectomy, or removal of the womb, is the standard treatment. Chemotherapy may also be included depending on the stage of the illness.
But uterine cancer, one of the most common female cancers, still kills 1,500 women in Britain each year. Globally 60 percent of the 45,000 deaths from uterine cancer are in developed countries. The majority of cases are in women aged 60 and older.
Malta, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Slovakia and Sweden have the highest incidence of the illness in Europe while Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Spain, France and Britain have the lowest, according to the report.
“We feel it is vitally important to raise awareness of this disease and encourage women to look out for the early symptoms,” said Boyd.
Bleeding after the menopause in one of the most common symptoms of uterine cancer. Low pelvic pain can be another sign of the illness.
Revision date: July 7, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD