PCOS and Cancer: What are the risks?

The onset of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome can bring about conditions that are also central to an environment that encourages

the creation of cancer. Women with PCOS often have elevated cholesterol levels, hypertension (high blood pressure), and obesity-linked Insulin Resistance. The latter disorder is an underlying cause of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, which affects an estimated 5-10 percent of all women of childbearing age and is one of the leading causes of infertility. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is one of the most common female endocrine (or hormonal) disorders. Characterized by multiple abnormal ovarian cysts, PCOS symptoms include high levels of insulin that stimulate the ovaries to produce large amounts of the male hormone testosterone. This can prevent the ovaries from releasing an egg each month, resulting in infertility.

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome can cause disruptions to the normal menstrual cycleirregular menstrual periods and the absence of ovulation cause women to produce estrogen, but not progesterone. Without progesterone, which causes the endometrium (the lining of the uterus) to shed each month as a menstrual period, the endometrium can grow too much and undergo atypical cell changes. This is a pre-cancerous condition called endometrial hyperplasia. If the thickened endometrium is not treated, over a long period of time it can develop into endometrial cancer.

Studies have shown that women who have never been pregnant have up to three times the risk of developing endometrial cancer, as compared with women who have had a successful pregnancy. Many women who cannot become pregnant are anovulatory, meaning they don’t ovulate on a regular cycle or sometimes they don’t ovulate at all. PCOS is one of the most common causes of anovulation.

Scientists believe it is the chronic exposure of estrogen to the endometrial lining that increases the risk of developing endometrial cancer. Another troubling statistic is that women who are 21 to 50 pounds’ overweight run three times the risk of endometrial cancer, while women who are more than 50 pounds’ overweight have a ten-fold higher risk. Obesity is often an underlying symptom of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. The evidence of the adverse effects of obesity, especially abdominal obesity, is overwhelming and indisputable. Obesity substantially increases the risk of several major cancers in women, including post-menopausal breast cancer. scientists believe higher levels of insulin and glucose in the bloodstream-a hallmark of PCOS-somehow stimulate cancer cell growth. In post-menopausal women excessive abdominal fat doubles, the risk of breast cancer, regardless of overall weight. Many Scientists believe that the components of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome-namely hyperinsulinemia, dyslipidemia (a condition marked by abnormal concentrations of lipids or lipoproteins in the blood), hypertension, and atherosclerosis-actually create an environment ripe for the development of breast cancer.

Although studies are still ongoing, preliminary data suggests that increased levels of insulin in the blood can increase the risk of formation of breast cancer cells. Nutritional and lifestyle modi