Rates of uterine cancer have risen recently among all women, according to a report by JAMA Oncology. Larger increases were observed among Black women, and Black women die of uterine cancer at twice the rate of white women, according to a March 2022 report from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. The racial disparity is one of the largest observed for any cancer. On October 17, 2022, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) reported that women who reported frequent use of hair straightening products (more than four times a year), were more than twice as likely to develop uterine cancer as non-users.
The uterus is a part of the female reproductive system, the place where a fetus grows and develops during pregnancy. The top of the uterus is the body or corpus. The end of the uterus is the cervix, which connects the uterus to the vagina.
Uterine cancer – cancer in the body of the uterus (not the cervix) – accounts for about 3% of all new cancer cases, with 65,950 estimated new cases in 2022. It is the most common cancer of the female reproductive system. Uterine cancer generally refers to two types of cancer:
- Endometrial cancer, one of the most common gynecologic cancers, develops when malignant cells form in the endometrium (the inner lining of the uterus).
- Uterine sarcoma, a rarer disease, develops in the myometrium, the muscle wall of the uterus.
- Vaginal bleeding or discharge not related to menstruation (periods).
- Vaginal bleeding after menopause.
- Difficult or painful urination (dysuria).
- Pain during sexual intercourse.
- Pain in the pelvic area.
Uterine cancer treatment may include radiation, chemotherapy or hormone therapy. It may require a hysterectomy to remove the uterus.
Most risk factors for endometrial cancer relate to the balance between estrogen and progesterone: obesity, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) or taking unopposed estrogen. Lynch syndrome, a genetic disorder, is also a risk factor, unrelated to hormones.
A study published on October 17, 2022 by the NIH’s National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences linked certain hair products to increased risk of uterine cancer. Specifically, certain chemicals in hair straightening products, with endocrine-disrupting and carcinogenic properties, appear to increase the risk of developing uterine cancer to 4% by age 70, versus 1.6% in non-users. The research, which used data from Sister Study, appears to be the first to report a link with uterine cancer. Hair straightener has previously been linked to higher risk of ovarian and breast cancers.
Hair straightening products are more commonly by Black women, who comprised 7.4% of the NIH study participants but 59.9% of product users. A 2022 study found that 89% of Black women use chemical relaxers or straighteners.
Federal regulations require testing of pesticides and water contaminants for estrogen receptor activity, but cosmetics – including hair products – are not tested. According to a 2018 study published in Environmental Research, hair care products targeting Black women are often full of endocrine-disrupting chemicals, many of which are not listed on product labels.
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If you have developed breast cancer or other cancer that you believe may be linked to hair dyes, or if you have experienced hair or scalp damage or other health problems related to hair dyes and hair relaxers, the attorneys at Parker Waichman LLP can advise you about your legal rights. To contact the firm, complete the form at the right or call 1-800-YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529).
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