PCOS and Endometrial Cancer – Understanding the Risks
Endometrial cancer is a form of uterine cancer that’s diagnosed most commonly. Women in their reproductive age are at higher risk for endometrial cancer for many reasons, like health conditions and lifestyle factors that can increase their estrogen levels. PCOS is one such condition that is known to increase the chances of women to develop endometrial cancer
Ovaries produce estrogen and the egg that is released monthly during ovulation. during a woman’s reproductive years. Women with PCOS typically don’t ovulate and have abnormally high levels of androgens, which are the male hormones. Women with PCOS also have elevated levels of estrogen and abnormally low levels of progesterone, another hormone.
The Estrogen Factor
Hormone levels play a key role when it comes to triggering the risk of cancer which in particular are types of uterine cancer like endometrial cancer. Women with PCOS who are overweight or diabetic or take medications like tamoxifen or estrogen replacement treatment are more likely to develop endometrial cancer than those without these factors. The abnormal amounts of estrogen are particularly risky when not equalised with sufficient progesterone levels in the blood. This is why post-menopausal women who have not had a hysterectomy and who need treatment for difficult menopausal symptoms will be prescribed both estrogen and progesterone, instead of estrogen alone.
Progesterone is the hormone responsible for the monthly “shedding” process of the endometrium — commonly known as the lining of the uterus. This process results in monthly menstruation, which many women with PCOS don’t have because of insufficient levels of progesterone. Without progesterone and monthly menstrual cycle, the endometrium thickens and the cells can become altered, preceding to a precancerous condition called endometrial hyperplasia. Eventually, endometrial cancer can develop if PCOS is left unattended.
How to reduce the risk of Endometrial Cancer if you have PCOS?
While you cannot prevent PCOS, it’s important to know your risk for endometrial cancer and figure out what you can do to protect yourself and reduce the risk.
If you have PCOS, do what you can to keep other risk factors for endometrial cancer away from you:
Treat your PCOS. If left unattended, hormone levels will continue to remain abnormal and affect your whole-body increasing cancer risk. It is thus advised to seek treatment for PCOS early and regulate hormonal levels. You can do this with oral contraceptives — progesterone-only pills are best to reduce endometrial cancer risk — or metformin which is the diabetes medication, to manage hormone production.
Reach and maintain a healthy body weight. Most often, women with PCOS are at the risk of being obese or gaining weight suddenly. Obesity is one of the most common and known reasons for endometrial cancer as it increases estrogen levels in the body. Through regular exercise and proper diet, women can lose the extra weight and minimize the risk related to PCOS.
Avoid fats in your diet. Besides helping avoid unwanted weight, reducing the fat content from your diet can reduce endometrial cancer risk. It is believed that the bad fats affect the way that estrogen is absorbed and utilised by the body, which can also increase the chances of developing endometrial cancer.
Get frequent Pap smears and pelvic exams. If you already know you’re at a greater risk for endometrial cancer because of PCOS, it’s important to keep a check for early signs of cancer. Getting a regular pelvic exam done by your doctor can help to identify risks if any and begin treatment.
Having PCOS doesn’t mean you’re fated to develop endometrial cancer, but it does mean that you’re at an increased risk for the disease compared to women without PCOS. So, it is important to take good care of yourself by focusing on preventive care, maintaining a fit body and a healthy lifestyle.