The type of uterine cancer that commonly arose in the study supports the theory that hormonal disruption is behind the increased risk. “Most of them were endometrioid [tumors], which is interesting because that is the more common subtype of endometrial cancer — and is driven by hormonal factors,” Dr. Matulonis says.
If you really want to reduce your risk of uterine cancer, there are other factors that have a much greater impact on uterine cancer than relaxers. Here, preventative measures you can take from the experts.
Consider cutting back
If you currently use a relaxer more than four times a year, consider limiting it to two or three times a year. “We did observe in our study that less frequent use was less strongly associated with risk, so decreasing the frequency of use may be one potential approach,” says Dr. White.
Tweak your lifestyle
Relatively speaking, a relaxer’s impact is minimal. “If you look at the really big risk factors for endometrial cancer, 50 to 60 percent is directly linked to obesity and lack of physical activity,” says Dr. Modesitt. (Adipose tissue, a.k.a. fat, turns the body’s natural testosterone into estrogen, which can trigger the growth of hormone-responsive tissues, like that of the breast and uterus — creating more opportunity for a genetic mutation that could cause cancer as well as cancer growth.)
Speaking of physical activity: Even going for more walks may help blunt your risk. While the study didn’t link uterine cancer with hair straighteners and body mass index, “it did see an association with a higher risk of uterine cancer with the use of hair straighteners and lower physical activity,” says Dr. Matulonis.
Know the symptoms
There’s currently no way to screen for uterine cancer, so it’s essential to know what the symptoms are, especially if you think you may be at a higher risk due to genetics or your lifestyle. It usually presents through vaginal spotting in postmenopausal women, while “in women who are still menstruating, it’s heavier bleeding or bleeding between periods,” Dr. Matulonis. Occasionally, it can be picked up on a Pap smear. If that happens, your doctor may order an endometrial biopsy or a transvaginal ultrasound to scope things out. But ultimately, it’s up to you to keep an eye out and visit your ob-gyn if you notice any irregular (for you!) bleeding.
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