Common treatment endometriosis linked to ovarian cancer, say University of Pittsburgh researchers

March 17, 2002

PITTSBURGH, March 17 - A commonly prescribed medication for treating endometriosis appears to elevate the risk of ovarian cancer, according to findings presented by a University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health (GSPH) researcher at the 33rd annual meeting of the Society of Gynecologic Oncologists in Miami.

In the study, women taking danazol, a synthetic version of the male hormone androgen, were nearly three times more likely to develop ovarian cancer than were women taking leuprolide, an anti-androgenic, gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonist. Both drugs are used to treat endometriosis, a painful disease in which pieces of uterine tissue migrate to other parts of the body.

"Our previous studies have found that women with endometriosis are already at a 50-percent increased risk for ovarian cancer, and treating them with danazol appears to further increase their risk. This new result, even though it is preliminary, may factor into the equation when clinicians and their patients with endometriosis are deciding on the best treatment," said presenter Roberta B. Ness, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor of epidemiology at the GSPH and director of the school's Epidemiology of Women's Health Program.

The study analyzed pooled data from two case-control studies that examined the relationships among endometriosis, endometriosis treatments and ovarian cancer. Among women with endometriosis, 17 took danazol and 15 took leuprolide. Analysis showed that the study participants who took danazol were 2.7 times more likely to have ovarian cancer than were other women with endometriosis who did not take danazol. Women taking leuprolide had no significant elevation in risk.

"While the number of women studied is small, the results are telling, and they warrant further studies on a larger scale," said the study's principal investigator, Carrie Cottreau, Ph.D., assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

Additional research studies are planned at the University of Pittsburgh to further investigate the link between androgens and ovarian cancer.

Earlier this year, Dr. Ness and colleagues published results of a study showing that there is no association between fertility drugs and ovarian cancer. However, the study showed that the risk of ovarian cancer is 50 percent higher in women with endometriosis than it is for women without endometriosis.
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Established in 1948, the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health is considered a leader in the field of women's health research and is world-renowned for contributions that have influenced public health practices and medical care for millions of people. It is the only fully accredited school of public health in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and is one of the top-ranked schools of public health in the United States. It is one of eight schools across the country to be designated a Public Health Training Center by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. For more information, access the school's Web site at http://www.pitt.edu/~gsphhome.

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