Ovarian Cancer Coverage from Every Angle

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Linked to Higher Risk of Ovarian Cancer, Study Finds

By: Sarah Campen, PharmD
Posted: Tuesday, September 24, 2019

According to a new study published in Cancer Research, women who experience six or more symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at some point in life have a twofold greater risk of developing ovarian cancer than women who have had no such trauma exposure. In addition, the link between PTSD and ovarian cancer was reported for the most aggressive type of ovarian cancer, the high-grade serous histotype.

“In light of these findings, we need to understand whether successful treatment of PTSD would reduce this risk, and whether other types of stress are also risk factors for ovarian cancer,” stated coauthor Andrea L. Roberts, PhD, MPH, of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, in an institutional press release.

The researchers analyzed data from the Nurses’ Health Study II, which tracked the health of tens of thousands of women between 1989 and 2015 through biennial questionnaires and medical records. In 2008, 54,763 study participants responded to a supplemental questionnaire focused on lifetime traumatic events and symptoms associated with those events, including seven PTSD symptoms they may have experienced related to the most stressful event. Such symptoms included being easily startled by ordinary noises or avoiding reminders of the traumatic experience.

Women who reported trauma and six or seven PTSD symptoms had a significantly higher risk of ovarian cancer than women with no trauma exposure (hazard ratio = 2.10), even after adjusting for health and ovarian cancer risk factors (hazard ratio = 1.86). Women with trauma and four to five symptoms were also at an elevated risk, but the risk did not reach statistical significance.

“Ovarian cancer has been called a ‘silent killer’ because it is difficult to detect in its early stages,” explained coauthor Laura Kubzansky, PhD, MPH, also of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Therefore, identifying more specifically who may be at increased risk for developing the disease is important for prevention or earlier treatment.”

Disclosure: The study authors’ disclosure information may be found at cancerres.aacrjournals.org.

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