Medical Q&As

Womb cancer - period related?

I have read somewhere that if you have absent periods you are at risk of cancer of the womb due to the fact that the lining of the womb is not renewed every month. Is this true?

I am assuming that your question refers solely to cancer of the body or corpus of the womb and not the cervix. The majority of cancers of the body of the womb develop in postmenopausal women. In other words the women have stopped having periods and the endometrium is no longer renewing itself at regular intervals. However, we still donít really know the exact cause of cancer of the womb. Most cancers of the womb develop from the cells lining the inside of the womb. This layer of cells is known as the endometrium. The risk of endometrial cancer increases with age with most of these cancers occurring after the menopause. It is rare for cancer of the uterus to occur in a woman under the age of fifty. It is also true to say that women who have never been pregnant are more likely to develop endometrial cancer than women with children. It is important to make special reference to the association between HRT (hormone replacement therapy) and cancer of the womb. Women who are taking HRT and have not had a hysterectomy should make sure that they are taking a combination of the hormones oestrogen and progesterone, rather than oestrogen alone. Failure to do so could give rise to an overgrowth of endometrium, which is referred to as endometrial hyperplasia. This is due to the oestrogen effect being unopposed by progesterone and the resulting hyperplasia could result in a marginal increase in womb cancer risk. However, taking HRT in the form of combined oestrogen and progesterone causes no increase in the risk of developing cancer of the womb. In conclusion, there is an element of truth in what you have read but the causation of womb cancer is more complex than simply not having periods. The truth is we have much to learn about the causes of this particular cancer.