Most of the time people try to lose a few pounds so they like that reflection in the mirror a little more, but it turns out the benefits of weight loss may extend well beyond looking better in your swimsuit.
A new study suggests that, if you’re an older woman, shedding excess pounds may also reduce your risk of developing endometrial cancer, a potentially deadly disease with which tens of thousands of women are diagnosed each year.
The research, published this week in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, used data that tracked over 36,000 postmenopausal women for 11 years, and found that those who gained weight during the study saw an 8 percent to 23 percent increased risk of endometrial cancer. Comparatively, those who intentionally lost 5 percent or more of their body weight had a 29 percent lower risk of developing the disease during the study. In obese women, weight loss led to a 66 percent decreased risk of endometrial cancer. Study participants’ ages ranged from 50 to 79.
"We decided to do the study because we realized that, although obesity increases the risk of endometrial cancer, research couldn't say if intentional weight loss, especially among older persons, could reduce that risk," lead author Juhua Luo, of the School of Public Health at Indiana University in Bloomington, told Reuters in an email.
The association between fat and the gynecological cancer — which, combined with ovarian cancer, claims about 14,270 lives annually in the United States — is easily explained, suggested Dr. Jason Wright, chief of gynecologic oncology at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and New York Presbyterian Hospital.
“Fatty tissue releases estrogen which can stimulate the endometrium and increase a woman’s risk of endometrial cancer,” Wright wrote in a related editorial with the study.
According to the National Cancer Institute, about 2.8 percent of American women will be diagnosed with endometrial cancer at some point during their lifetime, and the disease is the most common gynecologic cancer in the U.S.
According to the Mayo Clinic, here are the signs of endometrial cancer every woman should know:
- Heavier periods than usual
- Vaginal bleeding after menopause or between periods
- Bleeding between periods
- An abnormal, watery or blood-tinged discharge from the vagina
- Pelvic pain during intercourse
- Eventual fatigue, nausea, and pain in the legs and back
- Difficulty urinating
Endometriosis, a devastating disease that can cause infertility, shares some symptoms with endometrial cancer, according to Medical News Today.
Here are the risk factors for endometrial cancer:
- A family history of uterine cancer
- A previous diagnosis of ovarian or breast cancer
- Endometrial hyperplasia
- Using Tamoxifen to prevent or treat breast cancer
And, as the new research suggests, holding an unhealthy body weight can also have a profound effect on your chances of developing the disease.
“It is not too late to lose weight to reduce cancer risk, even if you are older,” Luo told Reuters.
Reuters contributed to this report.