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J Med Case Rep. 2012 Jul 30;6:225.

Managing the risk of cancer in Cowden syndrome: a case report.

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  • 1Department of Internal Medicine, University Hospital F, Bourguiba, Monastir, Tunisia.



Cowden syndrome is a rare cancer predisposition syndrome inherited in an autosomal-dominant fashion. The syndrome is characterized by hamartomatous polyps that affect multiple organs: skin, mucous membranes, thyroid, breast, gastrointestinal tract, endometrium and brain. It is also associated with an increased risk of developing malignancy in many tissues but especially breast, thyroid and endometrium.


We present the case of a 30-year-old Tunisian woman with mental retardation who presented to our facility with rectal hamartomatous polyps. Her medical history included fibrocystic disease of the breast over the last three years. A physical examination revealed macrocephaly, hyperkeratotic papules on the mid-facial skin, palmoplantar keratosis and oral mucosal papillomatosis. A breast examination revealed nodular breast tissue bilaterally and a diffuse thyroid goiter. Our patient was clinically euthyroid. A total thyroidectomy was performed. A histopathologic examination revealed thyroid papillary carcinoma. A gastrointestinal evaluation revealed esophageal and gastric polyps. Biopsies showed hyperplastic and adenomatous lesions associated with Helicobacter pylori. A final diagnosis of Cowden syndrome was made according to the syndrome testing criteria adapted by the US National Comprehensive Cancer Network. A prophylactic bilateral mastectomy was proposed but refused by our patient. Our patient was kept under surveillance for breast and colorectal malignancies.


Early and accurate diagnosis of Cowden syndrome is essential because it is a cancer predisposition syndrome that carries an increased risk for developing malignancy in many tissues, especially breast and thyroid. For this reason, education regarding the signs and symptoms of cancer is important. All patients must be screened for malignancies and options for prophylactic mastectomy should be discussed. Guidelines for cancer screening including surveillance and management plans for these patients should be distinguished from those of the general population, and may lead to a more timely diagnosis and treatment of cancers associated with this syndrome.

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