PTSD symptoms linked to a greater risk of ovarian cancer

A new study released in Cancer Research found that women who exhibit six or more symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) might be at an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer. The study was conducted by a team of researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Moffitt Cancer Center.

The team analyzed 54,710 participants from the Nurses’ Health Study II, initiated between 1989-2015, with 26 years of follow-up data. The participants completed a supplemental questionnaire pertaining to symptoms of the most traumatic events throughout their lifetime while also identifying the most stressful one.

Researchers split the participants into six groups: no trauma exposure; trauma, but no PTSD symptoms; trauma and 1-3 subsequent symptoms; trauma and 4-5 subsequent symptoms; trauma and 6-7 subsequent symptoms; and trauma but unidentified symptoms. The risk of ovarian cancer was adjusted for known risk factors like smoking and contraceptive use.

Based on the findings, women in the group who experienced trauma and 6-7 symptoms of PTSD were at a drastically higher risk of ovarian cancer compared to women who were never exposed to trauma. Among the group who exhibited 4-5 symptoms of PTSD, these participants saw an increased risk, but not as significant.

“Ovarian cancer has relatively few known risk factors – PTSD and other forms of distress, like depression, may represent a novel direction in ovarian cancer prevention research,” said Shelley Tworoger, co-author of the study. “If confirmed in other populations, this could be one factor that doctors could consider when determining if a woman is at high risk of ovarian cancer in the future.”

“Ovarian cancer is the deadliest gynecologic cancer,” the findings detail. “Better understanding of the underlying molecular mechanisms could lead to interventions that reduce ovarian cancer risk in women with PTSD and other stress-related mental disorders.”