Nearly three out of every five cases of uterine cancer are preventable with modest lifestyle changes, according to the latest report from American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) and World Cancer Research Fund International.
Endometrial cancer is the most common cancer of the female reproductive system, affecting more women each year than ovarian cancer and cervical cancer combined. With roughly 49,600 cases diagnosed each year, the cancer has no discernible method for pre-screening, making it particularly susceptible to sudden diagnosis. New evidence suggests that 30 minutes of moderate exercise and a lean diet can prevent 59 percent of cancer cases.
“Body fat can produce hormones that promote cancer development," said Alice Bender, nutrition communications manager for AICR. "We also know that body fat is linked to chronic inflammation, which produces an environment that encourages cancer development."
When a person exercises, her body produces less estrogen and insulin, two hormones that have been implicated as the root of endometrial cancer, according to the report. Endometrial cancer also has one of the strongest associations with obesity. Women whose body mass index (BMI) exceeds the AICR’s range of 18.5-25 face a greater risk.
Endometrial cancer most commonly affects women over the age of 60, due to the increased chance for obesity resulting from greater estrogen production in the body’s adipose fat tissue.
"Endometrial cancer is a disease mostly caused by excessive and prolonged stimulation of the endometrium – the lining of the uterus – by estrogens, unopposed by the hormone progesterone," said Dr. Elisa Bandera, an associate professor of epidemiology at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, adding that uterine cancer is “associated with increased insulin and insulin resistance as well as chronic inflammation.”
“All of these factors affect the cells in the endometrium,” she said.
Drinking coffee, either regular or decaffeinated, lowers a woman’s risk for the cancer by seven percent, according to the report. This is likely due to the chlorogenic acid found in the morning pick-me-up that could prevent DNA damage, improve insulin sensitivity, and inhibit glucose absorption in the intestine.
Glucose absorption, as the product of a food’s place on the glycemic index, factors into a woman’s risk based on the diet she maintains. Foods higher on the glycemic index, such as sugary foods and processed grains, increased a woman’s risk by 15 percent for every 50 units of “glycemic load,” the study found. Glycemic load refers to the effect of glucose on the body. One unit of glycemic load approximates the effect of eating one gram of glucose.
Still, glycemic load doesn’t tell the whole story when it comes to maintaining a healthy diet, according to AICR’s Bender. A number of unhealthy foods come with a low glycemic load, despite significant evidence urging for minimal consumption.
"You can't just say I'm going to choose foods that are low in glycemic load and that will be a healthy diet. Pure butter isn't something that we would recommend people eat all the time," Bender said. "We recommend a healthy, well-balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables."