Study links weight to ovarian cancer risk

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A new report finds a probable link between being overweight and an increased risk of ovarian cancer.

Authors say it is the first time an increased risk of ovarian cancer has been tied to being overweight and an increased body mass index, or BMI. The report released March 11 and published by the American Institute for Cancer Research and World Cancer Research Fund, was an analysis of several ovarian cancer studies conducted globally.

The report found the risk of ovarian cancer rose 6 percent for every increased 5 BMI units.

A normal BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9, while 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight, according to the National Institutes of Health. A BMI of 30 or greater is considered obese.

About two-thirds of American women are overweight or obese.

Ovarian cancer is the seventh most common cancer in women worldwide.

The disease is often fatal because symptoms do not appear in early stages and are not found until the disease is more advanced. The five-year survival rate for all stages of ovarian cancer is 44 percent, according to the American Cancer Society.

Thomas Krivak, director of clinical research in gynecologic oncology at West Penn Allegheny Health System, called the findings "enticing," but "not earth-shattering."

He said ovarian cancer prevalence has not increased at the same rate obesity has, adding that rates of ovarian cancer have been "fairly steady for the last decade or so."

New ovarian cancer cases dropped by 2.2 percent from 2001 to 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And that 6 percent increased risk? Dr. Krivak said although the number sounds high, a woman's lifetime risk of developing ovarian cancer is 1.5 percent. A 6 percent increase puts her risk at 1.59 percent over her lifetime.

No one wants to increase her risk of cancer, and even if the numbers don't point to a strong correlation between the two conditions, Dr. Krivak said the report is another opportunity to talk about healthy living and points to the "multifactorial aspects of cancer."

He said many of his patients have conditions that stem from unhealthy lifestyles, including obesity, smoking, diabetes and high blood pressure.

Bottom line: "There is no doubt that it's important to have a healthy lifestyle and obesity is serious," he said. "Living a healthy lifestyle should result in a decreased cancer risk."


Lauren Lindstrom: llindstrom@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1964.

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