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Study Suggests that Post-traumatic Stress Disorder Increases Ovarian Cancer Risk

Jamie Lipeles';

By Jamie Lipeles

Posted on October 10th, 2019 in Gynecology

PTSD Increases Ovarian Cancer RiskOvarian cancer is the fifth major cause of cancer-related deaths among women in the U.S. and hence also known as the deadliest of the gynecological cancers. It has been a "silent killer" as it is often difficult to detect it during early stages and therefore it becomes important to know who specifically is at an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer so that earlier atreatment may be planned.

According to a recent research study, women with high levels of stress hormones in their bodies are likely to be at an increased risk of ovarian cancer than those who do not have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The research was published in a medical journal, Cancer Research on September 5, 2019.  A study conducted before also found an association between PTSD and ovarian tumors in humans but it included only 7 women with PTSD and ovarian cancer.

An Association between PTSD and Ovarian Cancer Was Established through the Retrospective Longitudinal Study

During the study, the data from more than 54,700 women in the United States were analyzed by the researchers. The participants of the study were a part of the Nurses’ Health Study that was conducted between 1989 and 2015. Once in two years, the participants were asked regarding their ovarian cancer diagnosis and from the year 2008, the study participants were enquired if they had any traumatic event experiences and symptoms of PTSD related to it. They were asked to list out seven PTSD symptoms that they experienced after the most stressful event.

The women were divided into six groups, based on their responses:

  • no trauma exposure
  • trauma and no PTSD symptoms
  • trauma and one to three PTSD symptoms
  • trauma and four to five PTSD symptoms
  • trauma and six to seven PTSD symptoms
  • trauma but PTSD symptoms unknown

During these years of follow-up, 110 women had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer and most of them had six or seven higher levels of symptoms of PTSD. The researchers concluded that women with six to seven symptoms associated with PTSD were at a significantly high risk of developing ovarian cancer with high-grade serous histotype, the most aggressive form than women who had never been exposed to trauma.

It was hypothesized by the lead researcher of the study that the stress hormones act upon the cancer cells directly leading to their more invasive and faster growth. According to the researchers, chronic stress could also interfere with the body’s ability to get rid of cancer cells.

The study also suggested that it was possible to reduce the risk of ovarian cancer by treating the symptoms of PTSD. The data also indicated that women who no longer had PTSD were at less risk of developing ovarian cancer than women with active symptoms of PTSD.

Recognizing the Signs of PTSD

The frequency and intensity of PTSD symptoms can change over time, and therefore, it is important to recognize PTSD early warning signs that may indicate your symptoms are being triggered or worsening:

  • Depression: feelings of sadness, hopelessness, loss, or anger that interfere with a person’s everyday activities
  • Sleep difficulties: problems may include falling asleep, staying asleep, or experiencing frequent nightmares.
  • Reliving the trauma: re-experiencing a traumatic event, usually in the form of flashbacks or nightmares.
  • Chronic anxiety: one of the most common symptoms of an anxiety disorder is excessive worrying. The worrying associated with chronic anxiety is disproportionate to the events that trigger it and typically occur in response to normal, everyday situations.
  • Negative changes in thinking and mood: negative self-perceptions, memory problems, including not remembering important aspects of the traumatic event; feelings of detachment, lack of interest in previously enjoyable activities; feeling emotionally numb; hopelessness about the future.

At Cedars-Sinai Marina del Rey Hospital Our Experienced Women’s Health Providers Go the Extra Mile to Care for Women of All Ages

Successful treatment for PTSD can be helpful in reducing the risk of ovarian cancer. Additionally, PTSD could be a factor that doctors need to consider while determining whether a woman is at a high risk of ovarian cancer in the future.

In addition to diagnosing and treating ovarian cancer, our highly skilled doctors and specialists also offer counseling and testing for women who may be at high risk for developing one.