Chlamydia could double a woman’s risk of developing ovarian cancer, a major report has found. The study, which will be presented next month at a conference for the American Association for Cancer Research, is the first to show such dire complications associated with the most common sexually-transmitted disease (STD).
In recent years, health officials have made huge gains in trying to control infections of Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), another STD known to increase ovarian cancer risk.
However, they warn this new paper shows HPV did not affect risk as much as chlamydia – and the risk appeared to rise among anyone who had ever got the infection, regardless of how long they have had it for.
The study analyzing more than 1,000 women in the US and Poland could not determine whether treating chlamydia early on significantly reduces the risk.
Chlamydia is a sexually-transmitted disease. It stems from bacteria called chlamydia trachomatis. It is passed through contact, via vaginal, anal or oral sex.If left untreated it can damage a woman’s fallopian tubes and cause infertility. In very rare cases it can cause infertility in men too.
“Our data is lending support for there being a role of pelvic inflammatory disease in ovarian cancer and the prime cause of pelvic inflammatory disease, particularly in the US, is chlamydia infection,” lead author Britton Trabert, of the National Cancer Institute, said in a briefing on Thursday.
“We are seeing a doubling in ovarian cancer risk with a prior history of pelvic inflammatory disease.”She added that ovarian cancer is a relatively rare cancer, but women who get it face poor survival rates.
It is the fifth leading cause of cancer deaths for women; 55 percent of the women who get it die within five years of diagnosis.Chlamydia is incredibly common across the world, including the United States, where 1.5 million adults currently have the infection, according to the latest CDC data.
Often, it shows no symptoms and is only spotted from an STD test. Ovarian cancer is also notoriously difficult to spot.Symptoms masquerade as other common ailments – bloating, constipation, fatigue, cramps – and screening methods such as Pap smears or pelvic exams are rudimentary at best.
To investigate the link, Trabert analyzed data from two studies. The first study was from Poland, involving 279 ovarian cancer patients and 556 controls.
The other was a case-control study by the US National Cancer Institute, including 160 women with ovarian cancer during follow-up and 159 controls.Both found women who had previously contracted chlamydia had double the risk of ovarian cancer, while HPV did not seem to budge their risk at all.