Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a complex endocrine disorder with an estimated prevalence of 4-21% in reproductive aged women. The altered metabolic and hormonal environment among women with PCOS may increase their risk of some types of cancer.
We performed a comprehensive review of the literature using numerous search terms for all studies examining the associations between polycystic ovary syndrome and related characteristics and cancer published in English through October 2016. This review summarizes the epidemiological findings on the associations between PCOS and endometrial, ovarian, and breast cancers and discusses the methodological issues, complexities, and underlying mechanisms of these associations.
We identified 11 individual studies and 3 meta-analyses on the associations between PCOS and endometrial cancer, 8 studies and 1 meta-analysis for ovarian cancer, and 10 studies and 1 meta-analysis for breast cancer. Multiple studies reported that women with PCOS were at a higher risk for endometrial cancer; however, many did not take into account body mass index (BMI), a strong and well-established risk factor for endometrial cancer. The association with ovarian cancer was less clear, but a potentially increased risk of the borderline serous subtype was reported by two studies. No consistent association between PCOS risk and breast cancer was observed.
The associations between PCOS and endometrial, ovarian, and breast cancer are complex, with the need to consider many methodological issues in future analyses. Larger well-designed studies, or pooled analyses, may help clarify these complex associations.