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What Every Girl Should Know About Ovarian Cancer
Think you don’t have to worry about ovarian cancer until after menopause? Think again. Even though the majority of women who suffer from ovarian cancer are either middle aged or senior citizens, there are many things you can do now to prevent ovarian cancer. According to Dr. Gustavo Rodriguez of Northshore Healthsystem, taking an oral contraceptive for three (3) consecutive years during reproductive lifetime can reduce your risk of developing ovarian cancer by up to 50%. Also, taking vitamin D and bathing in the sun throughout your lifetime might also do you some good, according to recent studies.
Overview of Ovarian Cancer
Ovarian cancer is the most fatal gynecologic cancer and takes the lives of about 15,000 women each year. What truly makes this cancer so fatal is the difficulty in detection– hence the nickname—the silent killer. Consider some of the symptoms: abdominal pressure, bloating, pelvic pain, indigestion, constipation, loss of appetite, increased girth (weight), and low back pain. Because of these ambiguous symptoms, doctors can’t always diagnose ovarian cancer until it is too late—usually in advanced stages, where the cancer has spread to other organs.
Thus, women who are at risk—specifically those residing in the northern hemisphere, have Ashkenazi Jewish heritage, or have had history of ovarian cancer or breast cancer should seek genetic counseling (offered at Northshore Healthsystem) and speak with gynecologic oncologists.
No vaccine or cure
Ashkenazi Jewish Heritages have increased risk/prevalence
Current treatment methods are ineffective for platinum resistant patients
Currently there are no tests for ovarian cancer, but having a BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genes can increase risk
Research studies hint at both a genetic link and an inflammatory link
Studies on Vitamin D and Why You Should “Bask in the Sun” (Sparingly)
While many women know about the dangers of developing skin cancer with prolonged sun exposure, what many may not know is that there is a link between decreased sun exposure and vitamin D deficiency and consequently, ovarian cancer risk. Researchers believe that the reason geographical location is a factor is vitamin D’s role in cell growth regulation.
Consider these images that Dr. Rodriguez shared with Niles North High School during his lecture last September.
In the northern part of US, the areas with less sun exposure have an increased ovarian cancer mortality. Furthermore, on a more global scale, countries in the northern Hemisphere (Norway, US, Canada) have an increased ovarian cancer incidence, even when age-adjusted compared to countries near the equator (like India or Gambia).
From what we know now, the birth control pill protects against more than unplanned pregnancies. According to several studies, 3 years of using a progesterone based birth control pill can lower your risk of ovarian cancer by 50%.
During every menses and ovulation, the ovarian epithelium is ruptured. Scientists believe that the ruptures allow for an increased risk of developing abnormalities in the epithelium. (90% of ovarian cancer is epithelial). This theory is also known as the laying-hen model or the incessant ovulation hypothesis.
A Penultimate Note
Lisa Schneider, a licensed counselor for cancer support at the Cancer Support Center, said, “it is never too late to eat well, do gentle exercise, teach the mind to calm and stay in the present and release pent up emotions and old patterns that no longer serve you”.
Northshore Health System & the Auxiliary
Currently, the Auxilary at Evanston and Glenbrook Hospitals are working with ACE to fundraise for Dr. Rodriguez research with progesterone and vitamin D as well as initiating a clinical trial program that focuses on risk assessment and prevention.
North Shore residents and especially women who are at risk due to family history or ethnicity should consider visiting a gynecologic oncologist or a genetic counselor.