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Link between endometriosis and cancer

Endometriosis Awareness Week 5-11 March 2012

QIMR researchers as part of an international study have confirmed a link between endometriosis and ovarian cancer

QIMR researcher, Dr Penny Webb said that women with a history of endometriosis, a sometimes painful condition linked to infertility, can have up to three times higher rates of three types of ovarian tumours and that these findings may improve future efforts in diagnosing this often-missed cancer.

“Our research found that women who have suffered with endometriosis have more than three times the risk of developing clear-cell ovarian cancer, more than double the risk of endometrioid ovarian cancer, and an increased risk of low-grade serous ovarian cancer when compared to those women without endometriosis,” Dr Webb said.

“Previous studies have suggested these cancers were linked with endometriosis, but our research which included data from 13 different studies of almost 8,000 women with ovarian cancer and more than 13,000 women without cancer has confirmed this link.”

Dr Webb said that ovarian cancer affects more than 1,200 Australian women each year and only 40% of women diagnosed survive more than five years.

Endometriosis is estimated to affect approximately 10% of Australian women and occurs when the tissues that usually line the uterus start to grow on the outer walls of the ovaries, fallopian tubes, bowels and other nearby areas.

“Detection of ovarian cancer can be incredibly difficult as there is no screening test. The symptoms such as bloating or abdominal pain are very common and can be attributed to many other factors, so they often do not spark any concern,” Dr Webb said.

“Defining risk groups is important for any type of cancer and confirming this link between endometriosis and ovarian cancer is a step in the right direction to better understanding ovarian cancer and may help us narrow our focus for possible future screening.

“We certainly do not want to worry women who suffer with endometriosis, because most women with the condition do not develop ovarian cancer, but we do want doctors to be aware of this increased risk.”

The study was conducted by the Ovarian Cancer Association Consortium and published in Lancet Oncology.

About endometriosis

Currently, the causes of endometriosis are still unknown. Surgery and pain management are currently the only treatments for endometriosis and there is no cure.