Older women with metabolic syndrome may be at increased risk of endometrial cancer, regardless of whether they are overweight or obese. This is according to a new study published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

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Endometrial cancer is the most common cancer of the female reproductive organs in the US; around 1 in 37 women will be diagnosed with the disease in their lifetime.

Metabolic syndrome is when an individual has a cluster of factors associated with increased risk of cardiovascular problems and other health conditions. These factors include abdominal obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and abnormal fasting glucose.

Around 34% of adults in the US have metabolic syndrome, meaning they are at increased risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes and other metabolic-related diseases, compared with the general population.

Obesity is considered a major risk factor for endometrial cancer – a form of cancer then begins in the inner lining of the uterus, called the endometrium. In the US, endometrial cancer is the most common cancer of the female reproductive organs; around 1 in 37 women will be diagnosed with the disease in their lifetime.

Past research has indicated that metabolic syndrome may also increase the risk of endometrial cancer. But according to the investigators of this latest study – including Britton Trabert, PhD, of the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics at the National Institutes of Health – it was unclear as to whether this association was down to obesity or other factors of metabolic syndrome.

With a view to finding out, Trabert and colleagues used the SEER-Medicare Linked Database to gather information of 16,323 women aged 65 and over who had been diagnosed with endometrial cancer between 1993 and 2007, alongside 100,751 women who were free of the disease.

Fast facts about endometrial cancer
  • Around 3 out of 4 women diagnosed with endometrial cancer are over the age of 55
  • Endometrial cancer is more common in white women, but black women are more likely to die from the disease
  • There are more than 600,000 survivors of endometrial cancer in the US.

Learn more about endometrial cancer

A diagnosis of metabolic syndrome among the women was given using criteria set by either the US National Cholesterol Education Program Adult Treatment Panel III (ATP III) or the International Diabetes Foundation.

The results of the analysis revealed that women who had been diagnosed with metabolic syndrome using the ATP III criteria were 39% more likely to be diagnosed with endometrial cancer, while women diagnosed with metabolic syndrome using the International Diabetes Foundation were 109% more likely to be diagnosed with the cancer.

After accounting for overweight or obesity among the women, the researchers found that those diagnosed with metabolic syndrome under ATP III criteria were still 21% more likely to be diagnosed with endometrial cancer, while an International Diabetes Foundation diagnosis of metabolic syndrome put the women at 17% higher risk of the cancer.

In addition, the researchers identified four factors involved in metabolic syndrome – excessive weight, high blood pressure, high triglycerides and impaired fasting glucose – that raised the risk of endometrial cancer individually.

Commenting on the team’s findings, Trabert says:

We found that a diagnosis of metabolic syndrome was associated with higher risk of endometrial cancer, and that metabolic syndrome appeared to increase risk regardless of whether the woman was considered obese.

Although our study was not designed to evaluate the potential impact of preventing metabolic syndrome on endometrial cancer incidence, weight loss and exercise are the most effective steps a woman can take to prevent developing metabolic syndrome.”

In November 2014, Medical News Today reported on a study suggesting “good” gut bacteria that live in the intestine could offer a potential prevention or treatment strategy for metabolic syndrome.