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Will PCOS Increase the Risk of Endometrial Cancer?

written by: R. Elizabeth C. Kitchen • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 4/1/2011

Those with PCOS often wonder if PCOS and endometrial cancer risk are related. Hormone levels affect the risk of endometrial cancer, and it's important to understand how PCOS affects these levels.

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    PCOS, or polycystic ovarian syndrome, is a medical condition women may experience due to a female sex hormone imbalance. Endometrial cancer is the most commonly diagnosed type of uterine cancer. A variety of factors can increase a woman's risk for this cancer. Some believe there is a link between PCOS and endometrial cancer risk.

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    Understanding Estrogen

    When it comes to cancer risk, hormone levels play a major role. This is especially true with endometrial cancer. Women with PCOS and other issues that cause an increase in estrogen levels, such as diabetes, certain medications, obesity or estrogen replacement therapy, have a higher risk of developing endometrial cancer than women who are free of these factors.

    Progesterone is another hormone and it is necessary for the lining of the uterus to shed each month, resulting in menstruation. Many women with PCOS do not have a menstrual cycle due to not having enough progesterone. This can all lead to endometrial hyperplasia, a precancerous condition. If left untreated, PCOS may cause endometrial cancer.

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    Reducing the Risk

    PCOS cannot be prevented, but women can work to lower their risk of developing endometrial cancer. First and foremost, women should make sure that their PCOS is well-treated. Not treating it could result in cancer. Progesterone-only medications are the best choice for lowering the risk of endometrial cancer. Metformin may help in managing hormone production. Some women may elect to have surgery.

    A low fat diet is also important. Maintaining a healthy weight and following a low fat diet goes a long way in helping to lower PCOS and endometrial cancer risk. Obesity is a known to be a risk factor for endometrial cancer so getting to and maintaining a healthy weight is critical. Obesity also increases estrogen levels.

    Always make sure to get routine screenings. All women with PCOS are at risk for endometrial cancer. Because of this, it is important for them to make sure to get all pelvic exams and Pap smears regularly as their doctor recommends.

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    Having PCOS does not automatically guarantee that a woman will develop endometrial cancer. It does mean there is an increased risk and this risk is significant for some women, but no guarantees. It is important for women to maintain a healthy body weight, follow a healthy lifestyle, focus on preventative care, get treatment for PCOS and do whatever their doctors recommend to keep the risk for endometrial cancer as low as possible.

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    Resources

    University of Chicago Medical Center. (2011). PCOS Health Risks. Retrieved on March 29, 2011 from the University of Chicago Medical Center: http://www.uchospitals.edu/specialties/pcos/risks.html

    PubMed Health. (2010). Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. Retrieved on March 29, 2011 from PubMed Health: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001408/

    Net Doctor. (2010). Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. Retrieved on March 29, 2011 from Net Doctor: http://www.netdoctor.co.uk/womenshealth/facts/pcos.htm