AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – You may be familiar with breast cancer, lung cancer or prostate cancer. But there’s another type of cancer that many women are at risk of developing. Preventing it starts with making sure that certain women do one specific thing each month.
Having a period each month can be a dreadful activity for some women. But it’s also a life saver. Women battling PCOS and irregular menstrual cycles can develop endometrial cancer and doctors here say they are diagnosing more cases.
“In the last three to four years I’ve seen about 12 patients with PCOS related endometrial cancer,” said Dr. Bunja Rungruang, Associate Professor, MCG at Augusta University for Gynecological Oncology.
No one wants to hear the word cancer. But doctors who treat Polycystic Ovary Syndrome at Augusta University are seeing more and more of it in one in 10 women of childbearing age who battle the chronic disorder.
Dr. Rungruang said, “With PCOS you have a relative increase of estrogen relative to the levels of progesterone, which is the other female hormone and this causes thickening over time of the endometrial lining.”
She added that because women with PCOS have irregular periods, not enough progesterone is produced to oppose the abundance of estrogen in the polycystic ovaries. Extra estrogen also comes from fat tissues, another danger because women with PCOS have difficulties with weight loss. Endometrial cancer is most common in postmenopausal women between ages 50 and 70, but younger women battling infertility are getting it too, with her youngest patient just 21 years old.
“Unfortunately, when I’m seeing women in their 20s and 30s who haven’t had kids yet and really want to maintain their fertility talking with them about a hysterectomy becomes a major problem,” Dr. Rungruang said.
Hormone treatments help. And that’s where Doctor Larisa Gavrilova-Jordan steps in.
“If your periods are 35 days or longer and you’re not pregnant it’s time to get progesterone,” said Dr. Jordan, who added that some women can go up to 90 days or longer without a cycle and that is not advised.
Jordan, who works as the Director of Fertility Preservation and IVF service, adds that birth control helps regulate the cycle for women with PCOS, but those trying to conceive come off of that regimen and are at risk for endometrial cancer.
“Unpredictable menstrual periods can also lead to other problems such as endometrial polyps. Endometrial polyps are commonly benign and lead to excessive bleeding and clotting, causing women prolonged periods of bleeding when it comes and eventually still can turn into the cancer,” Dr. Jordan added.
Taking progesterone is really not that difficult. Doctor Jordan added it is typically an oral medication taken over ten days. And that brings on the much needed menstrual cycle and helps those women with PCOS avoid the cancer risk.
As for detecting the thickness of the uterine lining, Dr. Jordan said that can be done through an ultrasound in her reproductive endocrinology office.
Northwestern University is conducting a study for women of color with PCOS who have irregular periods. The paid study is to help researchers collect data from women who:
- Are 18 – 40 years of age
- Have 8 or fewer menstrual periods per year or irregular menstrual periods in the past
- Are not using birth control pills, patches, rings or hormone-releasing IUDs, unless previously diagnosed with PCOS by hormonal testing
You can contact firstname.lastname@example.org if interested in this paid study.
Also, women wanting to learn more about PCOS from doctors and other people in the medical industry can attend a symposium and 5K on the disorder in Atlanta September 16 & 17. It is sponsored by PCOS Challenge, Inc. and you can learn more about it here.
Photojournalist: Gary Hipps