It doesn’t get as much attention as breast cancer, but uterine cancer – also referred to as endometrial cancer – primarily strikes women over 60, killing more than 8,000 a year.
Now a new report by the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) and World Cancer Research Fund International estimates that nearly 60 percent, or 29,500 cases, of uterine cancer annually could be prevented if women maintained a healthy weight and got regular exercise.
They also need to drink a daily cup of coffee – either regular or decaf – and avoid sugary, starchy foods that cause blood sugar levels to spike.
The report, an update of the latest global research on the links between cancer, diet and exercise, reinforced the role that obesity plays in increasing women’s risk of endometrial cancer. Excess fat releases hormones, such as estrogen, that can promote cancer development, especially in postmenopausal women.
“Many women are not aware of the strong link between obesity and cancer, which is particularly strong for endometrial cancer,” said AICR researcher Elisa Bandera, M.D., associate professor of epidemiology at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey.
“Women who are obese have two to three times the rate of endometrial cancer. People who are more active regularly tend to have a decreased rate of endometrial cancer,” she told NBC News.
Cancer of the uterine lining, called the endometrium, is the most common cancer of the female reproductive system, according to the American Cancer Society. More cases of endometrial cancer occur each year in the U.S. (approximately 49,600) than cases of ovarian cancer and cervical cancer combined.
The report found that three out of every five cases of the disease could be prevented if women maintained a healthy weight and got at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day. Drinking coffee and avoiding sugary, processed snack foods could reduce women’s risk even further, the researchers said.
“Sugary drinks are especially bad,” adds dietitian Alice Bender, nutrition communications manager with AICR, in an interview. “We’re not saying never have a treat, but try to have it with your meal instead of by itself as a snack.” Eating it along with other food and protein keeps the blood sugar from spiking quite so high, she explains.
As for physical activity, Bender says “this doesn’t mean you have to join a gym. Going for a walk, doing chores, gardening: All of those things count toward your daily physical activity.”
Even several short bouts of exercise – walking the dog a couple of times daily, for example – can add up. The idea, said Bender, is just to keep moving throughout the day.
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