Report: Older Women Should Maintain Healthy Weight to Prevent Ovarian Cancer

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Earlier this week, I received an email from an older female relative. “I will be going to the hospital for removal of an ovarian mass,” she told me. “I will be there 3-5 days and then have another 5-6 weeks for recovery at home.”  Her mail didn’t describe what doctors believe the mass is.


    One possibility, however, is a scary one – ovarian cancer – especially since my relative is well past menopause, which is one of the major risk factors according to the American Cancer Society. Although I don’t have her definitive age, my relative is definitely in her 70s or 80s. And that meshes with what researchers have learned: more than 50 percent of ovarian cancer cases are diagnosed in women who are 63 years of age and above. In comparison, the risk of developing ovarian cancer is rare in women who are under the age of 40.

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    Ovarian cancer ranks as the seventh most common cancer in women worldwide. In 2012, about 239,000 cases were recorded, which amounted to about  4 percent of all new cases of cancer in women. Ovarian cancer also is often fatal and is actually the eighth most common cause of death by cancer in women across the globe. This type of cancer is found more often in middle-to- low-income countries.


    A new report, Ovarian Cancer 2014 Report: Food, Nutrition and Physical Activity and the Prevention of Ovarian Cancer, has been produced by the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research.  The publication has been updated based on a literature review of ovarian cancer research that was published through December 31, 2013.


    The report points out that the vast majority of ovarian cancers are epithelial carcinomas; this type of cancer is found in the epithelial cells that cover the ovary. Women who have ovarian cancer often don’t see any symptoms when the illness is in the early stages. That means that once health care providers catch it, ovarian cancer has reached an advance stage. Approximately 30-50 percent of those diagnosed survive for five years.


    This literature review found that there is convincing evidence that reaching the final adult height plays a convening role in the increased risk of ovarian cancer. However, reaching adult height isn’t really the issue; instead, it indicates that genetic, environmental, hormonal and nutritional factors have worked together to complete a woman’s growth, thus leading to a stage of adulthood during which cancer risk increases.   Additionally, greater body fatness – in other words, a higher body mass index (BMI) – also has been found in the research literature to be a probable cause of this type of cancer. Interestingly, having had children reduces the risk of this type of cancer; furthermore, taking oral contraceptives or hormone replacement therapy seems to offer some level of protection.


    Another interesting point in the report is that there was limited evidence suggesting that different foods and activity levels could offer some protection.  The studies that were reviewed focused on non-starchy vegetables, fruits, poultry, fish, eggs, milk and dairy products, coffee, tea, dietary fiber, lactose, total fat, alcohol, folate, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin, abdominal fatness,  physical activity, dietary patterns, processed meats, red meat, lypocene, calcium, acrylamide, saturated fatty acids, monounsaturated fatty acids, polyunsaturated fatty acids, animal fat, vegetable fat, trans fatty acids and serum vitamin D.


  • So what’s the takeaway from this report? I’d suggest that the report highlights the need to  maintain a healthy body weight. So while a healthy diet and regular exercise didn’t seem to lower a woman’s risk of ovarian cancer, they both are key components in helping you maintain a healthy weight. Focus on those two and you’ll help protect yourself as you age!

    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

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    American Cancer Society. (2014). What are the risk factors for ovarian cancer?


    World Cancer Research Fund and American institute for Cancer Research. (2014). Ovarian cancer 2014 report: Food, nutrition and physical activity and the prevention of ovarian cancer.

Published On: March 13, 2014