Study: Women may avoid endometrial cancer with exercise, weight control

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Lowering a woman's risk of developing endometrial cancer may be as simple as working out and maintaining a healthy weight.

Researchers who looked at global studies on diet, activity and weight as they pertained to the cancer of the uterus' lining, discovered that three out of every five cases of endometrial cancer in the U.S. -- about 60 percent -- could have been prevented if affected women had maintained a normal weight and sufficient physical activity levels.

The report, titled "Continuous Update Project: Preventing Endometrial Cancer," is part of an on-going project by the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund International.

The report also noted that one out of every five cancer cases in women could be prevented if they maintained a healthy weight and worked out for at least 30 minutes a day.

Endometrial cancer, sometimes called uterine cancer, is the sixth-most common cancer in women worldwide, with 290,000 new cases reported each year, according to the report. More than 49,000 U.S. women will get diagnosed with the disease in 2013, the National Cancer Institute notes, and about 8,200 women will die from the cancer.

Excess body fat was shown to be the most prominent risk factor for endometrial cancer, besides using estrogen supplements without progesterone (which was not looked at for this report). Obese women had more than double the risk of developing the cancer compared to slender women, with risk increasing as BMI -- a ratio of weight to height -- went up.

Weight gain from early adulthood to later in life also increased the chance of developing endometrial cancer. Each 11-pound weight gain over adulthood was associated with a 16 percent higher risk of getting the cancer.

"The link between obesity and endometrial cancer is the most consistent and strong association found in the nutrition and cancer literature," panel lead Dr. Elisa Bandera, an epidemiologist at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, said in an article on the American Institute for Cancer Research website.

Working out for at least 30 minutes a day and maintaining a healthy BMI was show to reduce the odds of getting endometrial cancer by 59 percent.

Obesity is such a big factor for some cancers because it can disturb the body's metabolic function, or how it uses the energy from the foods that are consumed, Dr. Karen Basen-Engquist, director of MD Anderson's Center for Energy Balance in Cancer Prevention and Survivorship in Houston, Texas, previously explained to CBSNews.com. Obesity can also cause inflammation that stops the process of cytokines, which are small molecules that help the cells send signals to each other. The condition can also affect sex hormones and fuel the growth of some tumors.

Exercise may also help cancer survivors prevent their cancers from returning. Studies show exercise can lower rates of relapse for people with breast and colorectal cancers.

The new report found other ways to reduce risk for endometrial cancer. Drinking one decaffeinated or caffeinated cup of coffee was shown to reduce the risk of getting the cancer by 7 percent.

Coffee's high levels of antioxidants may be the reason behind this potent anti-cancer capabilities. Previous studies have shown that heavy coffee drinkers who drank four or more cups of caffeinated coffee a day lowered their risk of of dying from oral and pharyngeal -- or throat cancers -- by half.

Karen Sadler, executive director of the World Cancer Research Fund International, added to the BBC that the coffee finding was interesting, but more work needed to be done on the topic.

"We need to consider the possible effect on other cancers as well as the impact on other health conditions and we are now looking to conduct further research into this issue," she said.

The first cancer prevention report put out by the organizations showed that non-starchy vegetables also decreased risk of endometrial cancer, while meat consumption increased the odds of getting the disease. However, the researchers were not able to confirm those results for this updated publication.

However, they did find a link between a high-gylcemic load diet -- foods that increase your blood sugar level rapidly -- to a higher risk of endometrial cancer. Every 50 units of glycemic "load" a person ate increased their risk by 15 percent.

Examples of high-glycemic food include processed carbohydrates like breads, pasta and baked goods like cakes and cookies.

"The bottom line is that not all carbohydrates are equal. For example, we want to choose whole grains instead of refined grains and generally a plant-based diet high in vegetables, fruit and beans, in moderate amounts that favor weight control," Bandera explained.

There were only three studies that showed that a sedentary lifestyle may increase the chance of developing this type of cancer, so the researchers were not able to draw a conclusion about inactivity is a risk factor for endometrial cancer. However, Bandera pointed out that previous studies had linked extended sitting time with an increased risk of developing other cancers.

"We have to remember to get up out of our chairs and move and avoid extended period of sittings in front of the television or computer," she said.

Mia Gaudet, director of genetic epidemiology for the American Cancer Society, told HealthDay that the results were consistent with existing research.

"Endometrial cancer has one of the strongest associations with obesity, of all the cancers we know that are associated with obesity," Gaudet, who was not involved with the study, said.

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