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How Fibroids, Endometriosis Affect a Woman's Odds for Ovarian Cancer
  • Posted May 3, 2023

How Fibroids, Endometriosis Affect a Woman's Odds for Ovarian Cancer

Having uterine fibroids or endometriosis can increase a woman's risk of developing ovarian cancer, but a new study finds that a hysterectomy can lower that risk for both Black and white women with fibroids.

“Conditions such as endometriosis and fibroids can impact health and quality of life,” said Dr. Barbara Norquist, a Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center clinician focusing on gynecological oncology. “Medical interventions, such as hysterectomies, used to treat these conditions can have an impact on future health outcomes. This study is an important step toward understanding these outcomes and better understanding ovarian cancer risk.”

But the researchers noted a troubling finding in their study: While the surgery can also reduce the risk of ovarian cancer for white women who have endometriosis, Black women with endometriosis did not see the same benefit after a hysterectomy.

The study's primary aim was to understand the racial differences in ovarian cancer risk. This area of research is particularly understudied for Black women, the study authors explained.

The investigators looked at just over 1,000 Black women and more than 2,200 white women who had ovarian cancer, along with women of both races who did not have the disease.

About 6.4% of Black women and 7% of white women in the study experienced endometriosis, while about 43% of the Black women and 21% of the white women had fibroids.

“Almost no research has been done examining the experiences of Black women with endometriosis, including how endometriosis can heighten the risk for ovarian cancer,” said study author Holly Harris, an epidemiologist at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, in Seattle.

“We need to continue making more discoveries in this area and conduct further research into how variables such as medical interventions, as well as access to care and treatment, also impact the risk of ovarian cancer in all populations,” Harris said in a cancer center news release.

More than 236,000 women in the United States were living with ovarian cancer in 2020, according to the U.S. National Cancer Institute. It's the fifth leading cause of cancer death in women, according to the American Cancer Society.

“Like many other diseases of reproductive health, endometriosis and fibroids research is severely underfunded in proportion to their population burden,” said Dr. Elizabeth Swisher, who serves as a co-leader of Fred Hutch/University of Washington/Seattle Children's Cancer Consortium Breast and Ovarian Cancer Research Program. “Because of this, our knowledge of these diseases is severely limited, leaving patients with sub-par treatments and substantial impacts on their quality of life.”

These researchers hope to continue looking at the impact of racial differences, as well as fibroids and endometriosis, on ovarian cancer.

“Despite the lower occurrence of ovarian cancer in Black women, this group has the highest mortality from ovarian cancer," Harris said. "Identifying how racial differences in access to care and treatment impact this disparity is critical to formulating risk reduction strategies.”

The findings were published May 4 in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on ovarian cancer.

SOURCE: Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, news release, May 4, 2023

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