Many women with PCOS are concerned about cancer, in particular ovarian and breast cancer. Although it is a far more minimal risk compared to metabolic risks such as insulin resistance, type-2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, it is helpful to be aware of this, as the types of cancer in PCOS are among the most preventable.
The main cancer of concern is endometrial cancer. When cycles are long, estrogen has relatively longer periods of time to act on the endometrial lining, causing it to thicken.
If ovulation doesn’t happen, there is very little progesterone to change the structure of the lining and allow it to shed.
As such, some women with PCOS have a thickened endometrial lining, called endometrial hyperplasia. If this is allowed to go on unchecked, it is associated with an increased risk of endometrial cancer.
A 2015 Danish study found that there was a fourfold increased risk of endometrial cancer in a group of 12,070 women with PCOS.8 It’s important not to panic, however, as the vast majority were type 1, which is low grade, slow spreading, and often treatable.
It’s also important to note that although there was a fourfold increase in endometrial cancer, only sixteen of the 12,070 women had it, as opposed to the typical statistics for endometrial cancer, where we would expect four women to be affected.
This would mean that your chance of getting endometrial cancer would increase from 0.03 percent to 0.13 percent. Not a huge amount, but something to be aware of, as you can detect this early and treat it.
As such, for women who don’t ovulate regularly, it is important to have a pelvic ultrasound and endometrial biopsy annually to check the health of the lining. It is generally a good idea as well to induce a period every three months if you tend to go long periods of time without menses.
An exception to this is after stopping birth control or having a baby. In these situations, it can take some time for things to kick back in for women with PCOS, and in many of these instances, estrogen levels are on the lower side.
In any case, if you haven’t had a period after six months of stopping the birth control pill, and you have PCOS, it’s advisable to request an ultrasound and hormonal bloodwork, including LH, FSH, estradiol, and progesterone.
This way, you can get an idea of how your ovaries and lining are doing. The same Danish study also investigated other cancers and their link to PCOS.
The study found no association between PCOS and breast or ovarian cancer, which is in line with the majority of evidence at this point. The study did find a minimal increase in ovarian cancer in younger women with PCOS, but the increase wasn’t significant.
However, PCOS was associated with increased risks of colon, brain, and kidney cancer’s surprising finding for the researchers.
In the end, they attributed the risks of both kidney and colon cancers primarily to increased body mass index and insulin resistance and not inherently to PCOS itself.
With respect to brain tumors, these were mostly located in the pituitary gland. This is in alignment with previous research associating benign microadenomas in the pituitary with PCOS.
These growths can secrete prolactin and can cause hormonal imbalances, but they are almost always benign. It’s been found that up to twenty-two percent of people have pituitary adenomas, and the vast majority are unaware of them.
The bottom line is that you want to watch your endometrial lining carefully and be sure you don’t go for long periods of time without periods.
When it comes to other cancers, we can focus on nutrition and lifestyle factors, and it’s likely that these will reduce our risks, since most of them are metabolic in nature.
And of course, environment is very important when it comes to any form of cancer, given that many environmental toxins that are problematic for PCOS can also contain risk for cancer.
As an example, BPA can induce the growth of endometrial cancer cell lines and has been associated with ovarian and breast cancer risk.
Fortunately, by reading this article, you are already on the right track to take the right precautions to protect yourself from cancer, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes.
So, even if your periods become regular naturally as you get older, working on this program will help you to live a healthy, happy, and long life.
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