Womb Cancer is the 4th commonest cancer diagnosed in women in the UK after breast, lung and bowel cancer.
The most recent statistics from CRUK in 2014 show that 9324 cases of womb cancer were diagnosed, there were 2166 deaths and 78% of patients had survived 10 years or more (up 7% from the 1970's)
According to both CRUK and The World Cancer Research Fund, between 37 and 44% of womb cancer cases could be prevented (approx 3900 cases per year)
So what are some of the risk factors for womb cancer and what can you do to prevent a diagnosis?
The risk of developing womb cancer is linked to the body's exposure to oestrogen. As oestrogen can be produced in fatty tissues, being overweight or obese increases the level of oestrogen circulating in the body, which in turn can build up in the lining of the womb, possibly leading to a cancer diagnosis. By not maintaining a healthy weight a woman increases her chances of a womb cancer diagnosis by between 3 or 6 times those of a woman of a healthy weight.
Another risk factor is inactivity. Public Health England has just published findings that show that approx 6 million adults aged 40 to 60 do not even complete 10 minutes of brisk walking per month and yet the WCRF has found that as little as 30 minutes of brisk walking per day can decrease the risk significantly.
Finally a healthy diet has also been found to decrease the risk for womb cancer (and 13 other common cancers too). By limiting high calorie food and drink, cutting down on red meat and consuming a wide variety of fruit, vegetables and grains, a cancer diagnosis is less likely.
However, even if you are not overweight, eat well and exercise regularly, you can still be diagnosed with womb cancer, as happened to me in 2013. The only risk factor I had was being over 50 and still having regular monthly periods, meaning increased exposure to oestrogen. Luckily my cancer was found at an early stage and after a total hysterectomy one month after diagnosis, I was cleared of the disease. I still have regularly check-ups and hope to be finally discharged early next year.
Exercise has been a major part of my recovery and survivorship. The American Cancer Society is researching into the effect of exercise on cancer survivors. So far they have found that it helps improve cardio vascular fitness, increases muscle strength and has positive benefits on levels of fatigue and psychological difficulties such as anxiety and depression.
Many cancer patients struggle emotionally and psychologically even after treatment has finished. Brisk walking produces endorphins, which help balance and neutralise the stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, which create inflammation in the body (itself a possible cause of cancer). By reducing stress, self- esteem is improved, happiness and quality of life increases. Future research is hoping to find that exercise prevents cancer recurrence, itself a major source of anxiety in those whose cancer is in remission.
By undertaking regular exercise I have found that my sleep pattern has improved, my menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes, night sweats and mood swings have been largely alleviated. I have more energy, although I still get occasional bouts of fatigue but it has had a positive effect on my bone health.
I have also enjoyed the support and friendship of other women at both my Latin Fitness Dance Class and Leicester Women’s Velo Cycling Club. I am looking forward to setting more personal fitness challenges in the future, including organising a peach themed cycle ride to raise awareness of the commonest gynaecological cancer that nobody seems to have heard of.
Thank you to Margaret for this guest blog post. If you would like to write one for us then please get in touch using the contact form.