Endometriosis does not cause cancer. However, people with endometriosis may have a slightly increased risk of developing certain cancers.
Endometriosis slightly increases the risk of endometrioid ovarian cancer and clear-cell ovarian cancer, says Laura Purdy, MD, OB-GYN, chief medical officer at Wisp, a telehealth platform focused on sexual and reproductive health.
Other types of cancer, such as breast, cervical, or uterine cancer, do not seem to be directly linked to endometriosis, she says.
More on the endometriosis connection — or lack of connection — to various cancers below.
“The exact reason for this slight increase is not fully understood, but it’s believed that shared genetic and hormonal factors may play a role,” she says.
“The risk of developing ovarian cancer when you have endometriosis is still relatively low,” says Purdy.
The average lifetime risk of developing ovarian cancer
So, “although the risk is slightly increased for those with endometriosis, it’s not much different from that in people without the disease,” explains Purdy.
“These symptoms can also be caused by noncancerous conditions, but if you experience these symptoms regularly and they’re unusual for you, it’s best to consult with a healthcare professional,” adds Purdy.
Cervical cancer is typically caused by strains
People with cervical cancer rarely have symptoms early on. Purdy says that when symptoms do occur, they usually include:
- irregular vaginal bleeding
- vaginal bleeding during or after penetrative sex
- pelvic pain or discomfort
- abnormal vaginal discharge
- changes to bowel or bladder habits
“Individuals with endometriosis should get regular cervical cancer screening, as recommended by their healthcare professionals,” says Purdy.
Most clinicians adhere to the American Cancer Society (ACS)’s
- Preferred: HPV test every 5 years
- Acceptable: HPV/Pap co-test every 5 years
- Acceptable: Pap test every 3 years
Endometriosis may slightly increase your risk of developing endometrial cancer, says Purdy.
During the 10-year follow-up period, 104 people with endometriosis developed endometrial cancer.
Researchers found that people who received an endometriosis diagnosis before age 40 experienced a comparable risk of developing endometrial cancer to people under age 40 without endometriosis.
“The exact connection isn’t fully understood, but chronic inflammation in endometriosis may contribute to this slightly increased risk,” says Purdy.
It’s crucial for individuals with endometriosis to be aware of this association and to discuss any concerns or symptoms with a healthcare professional for proper monitoring and early detection, she says.
Though most people with endometrial cancer do not have symptoms, those who do will often experience:
More research is needed to answer this with certainty.
“Breast cancer and endometriosis are distinct conditions, and the current overall evidence does not strongly support a direct link between the two,” says Purdy.
It’s essential for individuals with endometriosis to continue with routine breast cancer screenings and maintain overall breast health by practicing self-examinations and following recommended guidelines for mammograms.
“Patients who experience any lumps or masses should seek an appointment with their primary care physician or gynecologist for a breast exam,” he says.
Whether you have endometriosis or not, “it’s important to stay vigilant about general health and undergo recommended screenings for various cancers based on age, family history, and other risk factors,” says Purdy.
According to the
- limiting or quitting tobacco use
- minimizing exposure to secondhand smoke
- using sunscreen and otherwise protecting your skin from UV rays
- limiting or quitting alcohol use
- maintaining a weight as defined by your clinician
Receiving proper care for your endometriosis can also help improve overall health and reduce cancer risk, notes Sinno.
Some studies suggest that people with endometriosis may have a slightly increased risk of developing certain types of ovarian cancer. No other types of cancer appear to be directly linked to endometriosis.
No matter your endometriosis status, you can protect your overall health by staying up-to-date on cancer screening, vaccines, and mammograms, and implementing healthy lifestyle habits.
If you notice any new or unusual symptoms, consult a healthcare professional.
Gabrielle Kassel (she/her) is a queer sex educator and wellness journalist who is committed to helping people feel the best they can in their bodies. In addition to Healthline, her work has appeared in publications such as Shape, Cosmopolitan, Well+Good, Health, Self, Women’s Health, Greatist, and more! In her free time, Gabrielle can be found coaching CrossFit, reviewing pleasure products, hiking with her border collie, or recording episodes of the podcast she co-hosts called Bad In Bed. Follow her on Instagram @Gabriellekassel.