Women who have endometriosis may be at higher risk for cancer according to an article published in Medscape.com. Almost ninety million women suffer from this disease – almost all of them pre-menopausal. Although this disease isn’t life threatening, it can cause a lot of pain and discomfort for women who are unfortunate enough to deal with it.
What is Endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a disease where uterine tissue is deposited in other parts of the pelvic cavity including the ovaries, fallopian tubes, intestines, and bladder. This causes women to have very painful menstrual cramps and some women experience pain with intercourse, back pain, and infertility. No one is sure what causes it, but there’s a theory that “retrograde menstruation” occurs in women with endometriosis where the menstrual flow backs up into the fallopian tubes and abdominal cavity causing portions of the uterine lining to be deposited in other parts of the pelvic cavity.
Endometriosis and Cancer Risk:
According to a researcher from the National Cancer Institute, Dr. Louise Brinton, PhD, there’s evidence that endometriosis increases the risk of ovarian cancer, but it could increase the risk of other cancers as well. When she and her colleagues looked at the medical records of over 20,000 women with endometriosis who required hospitalization, they found the risk of both breast cancer and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma were increased in women with endometriosis. Other studies have shown similar findings. Women with endometriosis may have an ovarian cancer risk up to 3.5 times higher than women without the disease. The association between breast cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and endometriosis is less well defined.
Why Does Endometriosis Increase the Risk of Ovarian Cancer?
Researchers emphasize that a variety of factors could be at play. Women who are at high risk for endometriosis are more likely to be childless, infertile, and to have started menstruating early – all of which are risk factors for ovarian cancer. Endometrial tissue is also a source of aromatase – a hormone which increases estrogen production – which can contribute to the risk of ovarian and breast cancer. Lastly, endometriosis is associated with inflammation which may stimulate the growth of some types of tumors.
Does Treating It Lower the Risk?
According to the researchers in this study, removing the hormone producing endometrial tissue should theoretically lower the risk of cancer, although this hasn’t been closely studied.
The Bottom Line:
If you have endometriosis, it’s important to get regular gynecological exams and mammograms to screen for cancers of the ovaries and breast. Don’t take a chance with your health.
Medscape.com website. “The Link Between Endometriosis and Cancer”