What Do Ovarian Cancer and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Have in Common?
While there is no definitive connection between PCOS and ovarian cancer, studies show that women with ovarian cancer often report abdominal and gastrointestinal issues up to a year before they are diagnosed.
What is PCOS?
PCOS stands for polycystic ovary syndrome, and it is a hormone imbalance often present in women, normally affecting one out of every ten to fifteen.
At the age of as young as eleven, girls can develop PCOS.
While the precise cause of PCOS is unknown, it does involve issues with hormones. Many who experience the condition have heightened levels of insulin and additional androgens.
Some common symptoms, caused by excess insulin and androgens, involve issues with periods (not having your period, irregular, or very heavy periods) and pelvic pain. Excess hair often grows on the face or other body parts, a condition which is referred to as hirsutism. Patches of thick and dark skin can also develop. Trouble gaining or losing weight is also common, and many develop serious acne.
If these symptoms are present, it is important to see a doctor for a potential diagnosis. They will likely examine genitals and other parts of the reproductive system to check for polycystic ovaries, that can often be present with PCOS. Polycystic ovaries simply means that there are large numbers of tiny cysts (small sacs) on the ovaries. However, while these are often present, not everyone with PCOS have them. Regardless, they are not harmful and do not require surgical removal.
Occasionally, PCOS can lead to issues with fertility, but these effects are often reversible. Treatments to combat this risk are medications to ease ovulation and lower insulin.
To treat PCOS, although there is no permanent cure available, there are a variety of options available. Sometimes, all that is necessary is to eat well and stay active. However, if issues with periods are involved, birth control pills can regulate periods, correct hormone imbalances, and lower your risk of endometrial cancer. Birth control pills also help with acne and unwanted hair growth. Metformin is another medication that is capable of assisting with irregular periods, and is also used occasionally for the treatment of diabetes. Finally, anti-androgens can help to fight against excess androgens in the hormonal system. As a result, acne and hair growth are often decreased.
Other potential risks are high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, and a thickened endometrium, which can potentially lead to cancer. Now, many wonder if ovarian cancer is also a risk associated with PCOS.
The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development states, "women with PCOS also may be at higher risk for breast cancer and ovarian cancer. Small studies have suggested that the lack of ovulation (anovulation), as occurs with PCOS, is linked with a risk of breast cancer that is three to four times that of women without anovulation. In other research, results showed more than a doubling of the risk of ovarian cancer in women with PCOS, but scientists have not confirmed these links in large population studies."
Read on to learn more about the link between PCOS and ovarian cancer.