Endometriosis is characterized by cells that normally line the uterus developing and forming lesions elsewhere, usually on or around other reproductive organs, and the stomach, bowel, or bladder.
Like the lining of the uterus, these lesions thicken in response to hormones such as estrogen, and break down as part of the monthly female reproductive cycle. However, as there is no route for them to exit the body, they can cause pain, infertility, and damage to surrounding organs.
Endometriosis may also be associated with an increased risk of some cancers.
Endometriosis and ovarian cancer
Ovarian cancer is a tumor that forms on one or both of the glands that store eggs in the female reproductive system.
There is evidence to suggest that endometriosis may slightly increase a woman’s risk of developing this form of cancer. Still, the overall risk of developing ovarian cancer is low. According to a study published in The Lancet, the rate of ovarian cancer in the general female population is 1.3 percent, and 1.8 percent in women with endometriosis.
Endometriosis and other cancers
Current evidence about whether endometriosis is associated with other cancers is inconclusive and further studies are needed to fully clarify a potential link.
Another study showed that women diagnosed with endometriosis at a younger age may have a lower risk of breast cancer compared to the general population, while women whose endometriosis was diagnosed after age 50 may be at higher risk.
These conflicting results have been seen in other studies, as discussed in a review published in the journal Oncology Letters that investigated the potential link between endometriosis and breast cancer.
A review study assessing the potential link between endometriosis and cancer was published in 2015 in Human Reproduction Update. It suggested that endometriosis may be associated with a slightly increased risk of breast cancer and melanoma, but a lesser risk of cervical cancer.
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