A new study by QIMR Berghofer researchers has found women who suffer from endometriosis or uterine fibroids and who undergo hysterectomies have a significantly lower risk of developing ovarian cancer than those who have these conditions but do not have their uteruses removed.
The study has been published today in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
Senior author and head of QIMR Berghofer’s Cancer Causes and Care team, Dr Susan Jordan, said the research found women with endometriosis or fibroids who had a hysterectomy had an 80 per cent lower risk of future ovarian cancer than those who did not have a hysterectomy.
“However, for women who did not have endometriosis or fibroids, the study found that removing their uteruses did not change their risk of developing ovarian cancer,” Dr Jordan said.
“The results of this study will give women a more accurate idea of their cancer risks and give them more information to consider when contemplating surgical treatment.”
The study examined the medical data of about 800,000 women from Western Australia between 1988 and 2015.
It looked at ovarian cancer rates among women who did and did not have a hysterectomy – including those who had been diagnosed by a specialist doctor as having endometriosis or fibroids.
Dr Jordan said one in about every 80 women developed ovarian cancer by the age of 85, but the rate was three times higher for those diagnosed with endometriosis or fibroids.
“Deciding to have a hysterectomy can be a very difficult decision for many women, and they have to consider many pros and cons of the surgery. Future risk of ovarian cancer is just one of those,” Dr Jordan said.
“This study provides extra information to help women and their doctors make decisions about their treatment.”
Lead researcher of the study, Suzanne Dixon-Suen, said women without those conditions should also take note of the findings.
“Women who don’t have endometriosis or fibroids who have had their uteruses removed because of another medical issue are still at risk of developing ovarian cancer so they shouldn’t ignore any symptoms,” Ms Dixon-Suen said.
“Although ovarian cancer is not as common as breast cancer, it is an aggressive cancer with worse survival rates.”
Less than half the number of women who are diagnosed with ovarian cancer survive five years compared to breast cancer where 90 per cent of women survive past five years.
Dr Jordan said that women who had a hysterectomy often had their ovaries left behind for the hormonal benefits.
“In the past studies have shown that those women had a reduced risk of ovarian cancer, but more recent studies haven’t shown that and we wanted to know why,” Dr Jordan said.
“Past studies were usually based on survey results where women were asked if they had had a hysterectomy and if they had their ovaries left behind. The problem is that was relying on women’s recall of past events.
“This study is more accurate because it looked at the women’s medical records to determine if they had their ovaries removed.
“These results may help women make informed decisions about what to do with their bodies.”
In Australia each year, 1,600 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer and 1000 women die from the disease.
Symptoms to look out for include persistent abdominal or back pain, bloating, changes to bowel or bladder patterns, and abnormal bleeding.
February is ovarian cancer awareness month.