The findings could lead to new treatments for the disease, which is the most common cancer of the female reproductive organs in the US.
Dr. Helen Mertens of the Academic Hospital in Maastricht, the Netherlands, presented her group's findings to a gathering of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology in Bologna. She said the findings, based on more than 100 postmenopausal women, suggest that testosterone is "at least a co-factor in the development of endometrial cancer."
In a telephone interview with Reuters Health, Mertens said her team measured the levels of hormones in blood from the pelvic area and from other areas of the body. They also looked at the levels of receptors for hormones including estrogen, progesterone and testosterone in the lining of the womb. All of the women in the study had undergone hysterectomy and removal of the ovaries either for endometrial cancer or for other gynecological conditions.
According to Mertens, testosterone was the only hormone that was "significantly higher" in patients with endometrial cancer. "We found no significant differences in pelvic hormone levels for any of the other hormones or for any of the (other areas)," she said in a statement. "Local testosterone levels were higher in patients with endometrial cancer," she further explained to Reuters Health.
Testosterone is one of a group of hormones known as androgens. "These new findings of high local pelvic androgen levels and increased endometrial androgen receptor expression suggest that androgens are at least a co-factor in the development of endometrial cancer," Mertens said.
"If we can establish exactly what is going on...it may lead in the future to new treatments for the disease," she added.
According to the American Cancer Society, more than 36,000 new cases of cancer of the uterus, the majority of which occur in the endometrium, will be diagnosed this year.