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  • Writer's pictureWomen's Cancer Research Foundation

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and Fertility

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), the most common endocrinopathy (any disease due to a disorder of the hormonal system) and most common cause of female infertility, affects 8%-13% of reproductive-aged women. Patients with PCOS have androgen (a group of hormones that play a role in male traits and reproductive activity) and estrogen (hormones that play an important role in the normal sexual and reproductive development in women) abnormalities.

PCOS is a leading cause of infertility.

The major clinical characteristics of PCOS include menstrual dysfunction, anovulation (when an egg doesn't release from the ovary during the menstrual cycle), and signs of hyperandrogenism (a medical condition characterized by high levels of androgens in women). Additional symptoms are hirsutism (thick, dark hair on the face, neck, chest, stomach, back, buttocks or thighs), infertility, obesity, diabetes and obstructive sleep apnea (temporary cessation of breathing). Due to chronic anovulation, unopposed estrogen can result in abnormal endometrial bleeding, endometrial hyperplasia, and a four-fold risk of endometrial cancer.

The rate of infertility in women with PCOS is 70%-80%

PCOS is a leading cause of infertility and associated with abnormal bleeding, miscarriage, gestational diabetes, and gestational hypertension. The rate of infertility in women with PCOS is 70%-80%, primarily attributed to ovulatory dysfunction. Metformin (a diabetes medication) has been recommended in women with prediabetes or a body mass index (BMI) above 30; the treatment may improve menstrual regularity, but has not been shown to improve live birth rates nor reduce the pregnancy complications of miscarriage or gestational diabetes. Given the multisystem effect of PCOS, women who have an elevated BMI should consider lifestyle (weight loss) changes as their initial treatment in an attempt to restore ovulation function.

About Women’s Cancer Research Foundation The Women’s Cancer Research Foundation (WCRF) is one of Southern California’s and the nation’s most active research organizations for female cancers. We are dedicated to serving the interests of patients, families, and friends affected by women’s cancers. WCRF partners with physician-scientists nationally to make differences in women’s lives by offering hope, strength, and progress.

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