Women's health * Weight loss

Obese women at greater risk of ovarian cancer

zone image Up to 80% increased chance of deadly cancer

Women who are obese are at greater risk of developing ovarian cancer compared with others of normal weight, according to research carried out by scientists at the U.S National Cancer Institute.

Scientists monitored almost 94,500 post menopausal women between the ages of 50-71, for an average of seven years to investigate the impact of body mass index on the risk of developing ovarian cancer. None of the women recruited had used hormone replacement therapy. Previous research suggested there may be a link between HRT and ovarian cancer risk

They discovered that obesity was associated with an almost 80% higher risk of developing ovarian cancer. As none of the women used HRT, the increased risk of ovarian cancer in the obese group was thought to be associated with excess body weight. Post menopausal women who are overweight produce more oestrogen which may act as a growth factor for ovarian cancer cells.

The increased risk of ovarian cancer in obese women was only found in those who had never used HRT. Lead researcher Dr. Michael Leitzmann suggested that oestrogens present in HRT may have little additional effect on the already high background levels present in obese women.

Peter Reynolds, Chief Executive from Ovarian Cancer Action, commented: "This new study provides further evidence that obesity is associated with a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer. Ovarian Cancer Action recommends that women maintain a healthy body weight, eat healthily and take regular exercise to reduce their chances of developing the disease. The observation that the increased risk associated with obesity was not present among women who had used hormone replacement therapy is interesting, but further research is required in order to understand the role of HRT in ovarian cancer risk."

Almost 7,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the UK each year. It is the 5th most common cancer in women after breast, bowel, lung and womb cancers. It is often referred to as the silent killer as early symptoms are vague and ignored by women until the later stages of disease.

Previous studies have shown that women who have had children and used oral contraception lower the risk of disease.

This article was published on Tue 6 January 2009

Image © Eclipse Digital - Fotolia.com

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