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Difference Between PCOS and Ovarian Cancer

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) and ovarian cancer are two conditions that affect the ovaries and have profound implications for women's health. Despite affecting the same organs, PCOS and ovarian cancer are fundamentally different in their nature, causes, symptoms, and impact on health.


What is PCOS?

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a common hormonal disorder among women of reproductive age. The exact cause of PCOS is unknown, but it is believed to involve a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Women with PCOS may have infrequent or prolonged menstrual periods or excess male hormone (androgen) levels. The ovaries may develop numerous small collections of fluid (follicles) and fail to regularly release eggs.
Key Features of PCOS:
Irregular Menstrual Cycles: Skipping periods or experiencing fewer than eight cycles a year.
Hyperandrogenism: Elevated levels of male hormones leading to physical signs such as excess facial and body hair (hirsutism), severe acne, and male-pattern baldness.
Polycystic Ovaries: Enlarged ovaries containing numerous small follicles that surround the eggs.

What is Ovarian Cancer?

Ovarian cancer, on the other hand, refers to any cancerous growth that begins in the ovaries. It is often termed the "silent killer" because its symptoms are frequently vague and not apparent until the cancer has advanced. The exact cause of ovarian cancer is unknown, but factors such as age, genetics, and previous medical history can increase the risk.
Key Features of Ovarian Cancer:
Late Symptoms:
Including bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, and satiety (feeling full after eating a small amount).
Types of Ovarian Cancer: The most common type is epithelial ovarian cancer, which arises from the cells on the outer surface of the ovary.
Risk Factors: Family history of ovarian or breast cancer, age (most common in women over 50), and certain genetic mutations (such as BRCA1 and BRCA2).

Distinguishing Between PCOS and Ovarian Cancer

While both PCOS and ovarian cancer affect the ovaries, they have distinct characteristics that set them apart.
Nature of the Condition: PCOS is a hormonal imbalance with a spectrum of symptoms affecting overall health and fertility. Ovarian cancer is a malignant growth that can metastasize (spread) to other parts of the body.
Symptoms and Detection: PCOS symptoms are related to hormonal imbalances and reproductive issues, whereas ovarian cancer symptoms are often non-specific and appear in advanced stages.
Treatment and Management: PCOS can often be managed with lifestyle changes, medications, and hormonal treatments aimed at controlling symptoms. Ovarian cancer treatment usually involves surgery and chemotherapy.

Importance of Awareness and Early Detection

For women living with PCOS, managing the condition requires an understanding of its symptoms and long-term health implications, including potential fertility issues and increased risk of certain diseases like type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
In contrast, the key to improving ovarian cancer outcomes lies in early detection. Unfortunately, there is no routine screening test for ovarian cancer, making it crucial for women to be aware of the symptoms and risk factors associated with the disease.


Although PCOS and ovarian cancer both impact ovarian health, they are distinct in their symptoms, causes, and treatment approaches. Awareness and understanding of these differences are vital for early detection, effective management, and fostering a supportive community for those affected. Women experiencing symptoms or having concerns about either condition should consult with a healthcare provider for accurate diagnosis and appropriate care. For comprehensive ovarian cancer treatment in India, American Oncology Institute is recognized as the top multi-disciplinary oncology hospital known for its expertise and advanced care.