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Endometriosis is a condition in which the inner lining of the uterus, called endometrium, grows outside of the uterus. This leads to several chronic, painful conditions, reduced enjoyment of life, lower fertility, and a higher risk of ovarian cancer.
Instead of growing inside the uterus, the endometrium will grow around the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and even around abdominal organs not related to the reproductive symptoms. During normal menstruation, the uterine lining, including the endometrium, sheds and flows out of the vagina; when a person struggles with endometriosis, the endometrium will still shed, but because it has no easy way to exit because it grows in abnormal places, the result can be extremely painful.
About 5 million people in the US deal with painful menstruation, trouble becoming pregnant, and heavy bleeding, along with other symptoms of endometriosis. This means two out of every 10 women in the US, between the ages of 25 and 40, have mild to severe endometriosis.
Although endometriosis can affect women at any age, most people receive a diagnosis of this condition in their 30s or 40s. One estimate suggests that 11 percent of women between 15 and 44 years old struggle with endometriosis. Like any chronic condition, there are several factors that influence whether a woman could develop endometriosis.Risk Factors
Some of these risk factors include:
Other factors associated with a risk of endometriosis include:
Signs of endometriosis include:
Endometriosis leads to benign growths. These can block fallopian tubes, grow over the ovaries, or even grow inside ovaries. Trapped blood inside the ovaries and fallopian tubes can form cysts. This and other growths may lead to inflammation and swelling. The growths may also form scar tissue, which can bind organs together, causing pelvic pain, problems in the intestine, and bladder trouble.
Ovarian cysts and cancer may have symptoms similar to endometriosis, so a woman may be misdiagnosed with endometriosis before receiving a cancer diagnosis.
For over 100 years, medical professionals have theorized about a link between endometriosis and ovarian cancer. Only recently, though, medical studies have clarified the correlation between these two conditions. One study of ovarian cancer patients who have had operations for this cancer found that 10 percent had co-occurring ovarian endometriosis. When the study narrowed ovarian cancer to clear cell ovarian cancer, that percentage went up to 36.8 percent. Because of studies like these, a type of ovarian cancer called endometriosis-associated ovarian carcinoma (EAOC) has been identified.
Another potential link involves hormone therapy. Women with intense endometriosis symptoms may take hormonal therapies to manage their levels of estrogen; however, these artificial changes in estrogen levels may increase the risk of ovarian cancer.
Doctors are clear that endometriosis is actually much more common than ovarian cancer, but screening for endometriosis is still fairly difficult. Complications from screening for endometriosis may just lead to a misdiagnosis of potentially malignant cysts, which are cancerous or precancerous rather than benign. The current methods for diagnosing endometriosis include a pelvic exam, transvaginal ultrasound, and using hormone therapies to manage symptoms; less painful, more regular menstrual cycles indicate that endometriosis is successfully treated by estrogen therapy.
While there is no cure for endometriosis, there are several approaches to treatment, depending on how serious symptoms are.