Women’s Health: PCOS and Ovarian Cancer
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal imbalance leading to enlargement of the ovaries with cysts forming on the outer layer. The condition is prevalent in women of reproductive age, affecting as much as 6% – 12%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
PCOS causes an irregular menstrual cycle, production of excess male hormones and interferes with the regular release of ovarian eggs. Women with PCOS are at greater risk of ovarian cancer than those without the condition. Ovarian cancer occurs when there is irregular growth of cells forming in the ovaries, destroying the surrounding tissues. It is important for women who have been diagnosed with PCOS to visit with a physician regularly to check for any changes that may develop into ovarian cancer for early treatment.
Symptoms of PCOS
There are varying signs and symptoms of PCOS. Not all women will experience the same symptoms or same severity of symptoms.
- Irregular menstrual periods. This may range from short, long or uncommonly heavy periods
- Excessive hair growth, usually on the chest, face or back
- Severe acne from oily skin
- Dysfunctional ovaries due to enlargement causing pregnancy complications
- Weight gain
Physicians have a few ways to diagnose PCOS including:
- Blood tests to measure hormonal, blood sugar or cholesterol levels
- Ultrasound scans to reveal the number of ovarian follicles
- Pelvic exams to inspect the ovarian tissue manually for any abnormalities
The exact causes of PCOS are unknown, but several factors are associated with it.
- Insulin resistance can cause weight gain, a risk factor for PCOS. Insulin resistance also increases the production of testosterone in the ovaries.
- Genetic factors may cause type 2 diabetes, which is prevalent in PCOS patients.
- Excess weight gain is also associated with PCOS symptoms. Losing weight may help resolve some of the associated symptoms.
- Healthy lifestyle changes like weight loss and a balanced diet are significant in the treatment.
- Contraceptive pills to manage irregular menstrual periods.
- Injection treatments correct fertility complications in patients with PCOS.
- Medicines like flutamide and spironolactone treat excessive hair loss.
Increased Risk of Ovarian Cancer
PCOS places women at more significant risk for developing ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer is common in older women, typically affecting women after menopause, although there are rare cases occurring in younger women. This cancer begins with irregular cell growth in the ovaries that can be caused by several factors, including:
- Inheriting ovarian cancer from close family relatives through genetic history
- Older women, particularly after menopause
- Women diagnosed with endometriosis, which causes cells in the womb to grow abnormally in the ovaries, potentially causing ovarian cancer
Diagnosing ovarian cancer includes procedures like ultrasound, blood tests, surgery and genetic testing. Patients with ovarian cancer can receive different treatment methods depending on disease severity and stage, including:
- Supportive care
- Targeted therapy
Both PCOS and ovarian cancer are a significant concern to women’s health. The good news is, there are several methods of prevention and treatment. At Midwest Express Clinic, we proudly offer quality, comprehensive healthcare services to women and all of our patients. Visit us at any of our convenient locations today.