Endometriosis and ovarian cancer risk

Endometriosis
What is being said?

recent correspondence in The Lancet medical journal has commented on how clinicians should approach ovarian cancer risk with patients who have endometriosis.

What is endometriosis?

Endometriosis is a common condition in women where tissue that behaves like the lining of the womb (endometrium) is found in other parts of the body. Places it might appear includes the ovaries, fallopian tubes, inside the tummy and around the bladder or bowel.

Most commonly seen in younger women and those of childbearing age, symptoms of the disease include: 

  • Pain in your lower tummy or back (pelvic pain) – usually worse during your period
  • Period pain that stops you doing your normal activities
  • Pain during or after sex
  • Pain when urinating or painful bowel movements during your period
  • Feeling sick, constipated, having diarrhoea, or seeing blood in your urine during your period
  • Difficulty getting pregnant

For more information about the symptoms of endometriosis and how it is treated visit its NHS Choices page.

Does having endometriosis increase risk ovarian cancer risk?

Women with endometriosis have a small increased risk of developing ovarian cancer compared to the general population. 1.3% of the general female population will develop ovarian cancer, compared to less than 2% of women who have endometriosis, so the difference is negligible.

The majority of women who have endometriosis will not get ovarian cancer, and most of those who do are usually diagnosed at an earlier stage, and therefore have much better outcomes.

The Lancet suggests that clinicians should encourage their patients to be aware of, but not worry about their ovarian cancer risk because the likelihood of them developing it is low. Interventions such as CA125 blood tests, ultrasound scans and risk reduction surgery should be avoided.

What should I do if I am concerned about ovarian cancer risk associated with my endometriosis?

The most important thing is to be symptom aware and to act on anything unusual quickly. Some of the symptoms of endometriosis are similar to ovarian cancer. The main symptoms of ovarian cancer are:

  • Persistent stomach pain
  • Persistent bloating
  • Needing to wee more frequently or urgently
  • Difficulty eating/feeling full more quickly 

Other things to look out for include a change in bowel habits (going more often, or less frequently), extreme tiredness for no obvious reason and unexplained weight loss.

It is important to know what symptoms are normal for you and your endometriosis, and to ensure you see your GP if these change or become more severe. There is more information about ovarian cancer symptoms and what to do if you are concerned on our website.