Reducing Ovulation through Pregnancy or Birth Control May Decrease Ovarian Cancer Risk
A new study published in the British Journal of Cancer finds that women who have children or use hormonally-based birth control methods, such The Pill, have a reduced risk of ovarian cancer. While the exact reason is yet unknown, it is suspected that the decrease in risk is related to a reduction in the number of times a woman ovulates and menstruates in her lifetime.
Cancer epidemiologists Kostas T. Tsilidis and Naomi Allen of the University of Oxford led a team that analyzed the influence of several reproductive factors, including contraceptive use, on ovarian cancer. The database included almost 327,400 women participating in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC).
Women who had ever taken the birth control pill had less of a risk (15%) of developing ovarian cancer overall. Those who used The Pill for 10 years had nearly half the risk (45%) of developing ovarian cancer over those who never used oral contraceptives.
Pregnancy was also found to be a protective factor. The birth of a first child reduced the risk of ovarian cancer by 29% over those women who had never been pregnant. Subsequent full-term pregnancies reduced the risk an additional 8%.
A third factor in the development of ovarian cancer appears to be delayed onset of menopause. Women who reached menopause after age 52 had a 46% higher risk than women whose childbearing years ended by 45. For every extra year a woman was still menstruating and exposed to hormones such as estrogen, her risk rose 2 percent.
Unfortunately, previous studies have found a link between oral contraceptive use and a slight increase in breast cancer risk, particularly among women with strong family histories of the disease, so women should evaluate their own personal risk factors before deciding on birth control pills as a protective addition to a healthy lifestyle that includes proper diet, exercise, and not smoking – all of which lower overall cancer risk.
"Ovarian cancer is difficult to detect and so prevention is key to saving women suffering from this disease," said Allen.
According to the National Cancer Institute, nearly 22,000 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the United States this year, and 15,640 will die from it. Among women whose ovarian cancer is detected before it spreads beyond the ovary, 93% survive beyond five years, however, most of the time the disease is detected in advanced stages because early warning signs – such as bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, feeling full quickly after eating, and urinary frequency or urgency - can be vague.
Source: Cancer Research UK