Researchers for the first time have found a link between a major component of semen and endometriosis, a condition in which tissue that typically lines a woman’s uterus (the endometrium) is found on the ovaries, fallopian tubes or other places it should not be.
Endometriosis, which according to the Endometriosis Association affects more than six million women and girls in the US and millions more worldwide, is a somewhat mysterious disease. The cause of the condition is not fully known, and experts are uncertain how to effectively prevent or treat it – but the new study sheds new light on what aggravates the condition.
Dr. Jonathan McGuane from the University of Adelaide’s Robinson Research Institute, and his colleagues report in the a recent edition of the American Journal of Pathology that seminal fluid, a major component of semen, enhances the growth and survival of endometriosis lesions.
A common and debilitating condition
Louise Hull, an associate professor at the Robinson Research Institute and a co-author of the study, told redOrbit via email that endometriosis “is a really common condition that affects about 10 percent of young women in their reproductive years,” and that nearly half of women suffering from the condition have to take an average of 18 days off work each year due to pain.
Endometriosis is also “a significant cause of difficulty conceiving and a relatively common indication for in vitro fertilization (IVF),” she noted. Surgery is required for women to obtain a diagnosis, and sometimes they have to undergo multiple procedures and other medical treatments during the course of their lives. Yet why the reasons those women get the condition is “poorly understood” and “we are still working out what women can do to reduce their risk.”
While additional research is required to fully explore the link between endometriosis and seminal fluid, Hull and her colleagues explained their findings raise the possibility that exposing the inner lining of the uterus to the semen component could contribute to the disease’s progression, and that there may be a link between endometriosis and sexual activity.
Changes in sexual activity could help reduce risk
The study authors now intend to see if they can apply their laboratory findings to real-world conditions, and to see if exposure to seminal fluid that happens naturally during intercourse may increase a woman’s risk of developing endometriosis. Furthermore, they hope to see if changes to sexual activity could lower the severity of the condition in women with endometriosis.
Hull explained to redOrbit that the research “has shown that seminal plasma enhances the ability of endometrial tissue to form endometriotic lesions in a model of endometriosis in the laboratory. The question now is does it influence endometriosis development in women.”
“We now need to see if being exposed to seminal plasma at certain phases of the cycles may influence the disease or if women can reduce their risk of endometriosis by modifying their exposure to seminal plasma at certain phases of the cycle,” the associate professor added. “We still need to find this out and a lot more research in this area is required to help women with this debilitating condition.”