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Is Endometriosis a Cancer?

Reviewed on 4/22/2019

Ask a Doctor

My aunt has endometriosis and she often complains of painful symptoms. She’s had this for years, and I worry about her health. I don’t know much about the illness, other than it causes a ton of pain during your period. Is it a type of cancer?

Doctor’s Response

Endometriosis is a condition that occurs in women in which tissue that normally lines the uterus (endometrium) grows outside the uterus. Endometriosis typically occurs in the ovaries, fallopian tubes, the bowel, and the areas around the uterus.

Endometriosis is not cancer, however, it appears to be associated with a higher risk for developing certain types of epithelial ovarian cancers (EOC). It is unknown if women with endometriosis are at higher risk for other types of cancers, but women with endometriosis also have a mildly increased risk for development of certain types of cancer of the ovary. This risk seems to be highest in women with endometriosis and primary infertility (those who have never borne a child), but the use of oral contraceptive pills appears to significantly reduce this risk.

Endometriosis is a chronic condition. If a woman develops this disease, she will benefit from developing a long-lasting relationship with her doctor or gynecologist, who can direct her treatment and follow her response to therapy.

Women experience a wide variety of responses to medical and exercise therapy. Responses range from complete resolution of symptoms to no relief and further progression of the disease. Hysterectomy with removal of the ovaries essentially causes menopause, and women who have this procedure can expect a considerable decrease in symptoms.

  • Studies have shown women who have endometriosis are more likely than other women to have disorders in which the immune system attacks the body's own tissues. These include:
  • Researchers also found that women with endometriosis are more likely to have chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia (a disease involving pain in the muscles, tendons, and ligaments).
  • Women with endometriosis are more likely to have asthma, allergies, and eczema (a skin condition).
  • Hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid gland) is more common in women with endometriosis.

Infertility: Endometriosis is known to be a common cause of infertility in women, but it does not always cause infertility.

  • Research has shown that many women with untreated endometriosis have a decreased ability to conceive.
  • Issues concerning infertility are best discussed with a doctor, gynecologist, or fertility specialist; who can guide a woman toward appropriate treatment options.

For more information, read our full medical article on endometriosis.

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Reviewed on 4/22/2019
References
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD coauthored this article

REFERENCES:

Robert S Schenken, MD. Endometriosis: Pathogenesis, clinical features, and diagnosis. 3 January 2019. 7 January 2019 .
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