Obesity Linked to Increased Ovarian Cancer Risk

Jan 7, 2009 by

Obesity Linked to Increased Ovarian Cancer Risk

According to a recent study, post-menopausal women who are obese and who have never before used hormone replacement therapy (HRT) may have higher risk of getting ovarian cancer, as compared to women who are in the normal-weight range.

This, however, does not seem to apply to obese women who have used HRT for menopausal symptoms – those women did not face heightened risk for ovarian cancer.

Published in the journal Cancer, the study was conducted by researchers from the US National Cancer Institute and looked at close to 95,000 American women aged 50 to 71, for an average period of 7 years.

All in all, obese women (body mass index of 30 or higher) had a 26% higher risk of getting ovarian cancer. The study team, however, said this was not statistically significant.

What was significant was the difference in risk between obese women who had never used HRT and normal-weight women who had never used HRT – the former group exhibited 80% higher risk of ovarian cancer than the latter group.

No relationship was found for ovarian cancer risk for different weight ranges, among women who had used HRT for the symptoms of menopause.

The study team said that their findings indicate the possibility that obesity may raise the risk of ovarian cancer via hormonal effects. In particular, excess fat raises estrogen production, which in turn can encourage the growth of ovarian cancer.

But the fact that no difference in risk was found for women of different weight ranges who had used HRT casts some doubt over the results of the study. Dr Michael A Bookman, the vice president for ambulatory care and clinical research at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, felt that because the findings were not significant for the whole population and only applied to a subset of the population, then the true picture is probably a lot more complicated that just being down to estrogen. That is a fair point.

However, in any case, the bottom is once again clear – for good health and lower cancer risk, maintain a healthy weight.

“This is another, very fine epidemiologic study that shows a relationship between obesity and female-related cancers. The two leading causes of cancer in the western world today are tobacco and obesity. We’ve made enormous progress with tobacco-related malignancies – it’s really stunning. The next wave is obesity-related illness,” said Dr Jay Brooks, chairman of hematology / oncology at Ochsner Health System in Baton Rouge.

“This is yet another health risk that we can talk about with women who are overweight, and yet another reason to lose weight,” Dr Elizabeth A Poynor, a gynecologic oncologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, also said.

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