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Last updated on April 16, 2014 at 17:34 EDT

Link Between Obesity, Ovarian Cancer Risk

January 14, 2009

A large study of U.S. women suggests that obese women may have a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer than their thinner counterparts.

Ovarian cancer has a higher death rate than most because in the initial stages it typically has vague symptoms or none at all.

A U.S. study involving more than 94,000 women between the ages of 50 and 71 who were followed for more than 7 years noted several connections between obesity and ovarian cancer.

The researchers found that obese women were the most likely to develop ovarian cancer. However, the risk appeared to be confined to those who’d never used hormone replacement therapy (HRT) during menopause. Studies in the past have found a link between hormone use and a reduced risk of ovarian cancer.

Women who were obese and had never used HRT showed an 83 percent higher risk of ovarian cancer than normal-weight women.

The findings suggest that obesity may be one of a few controllable risk factors for ovarian cancer, according to the report published in the journal Cancer.

Lead researcher Dr. Michael F. Leitzmann, of the U.S. National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland and the University of Regensburg in Germany, said the results also offer women one more potential reason to avoid unhealthy weight gain.

“Our data suggests that maintaining a healthy weight is associated with a reduction in the risk of developing ovarian cancer,” Leitzmann said.

Leitzmann and colleagues are still not entirely clear why obesity may contribute to ovarian cancer, but they suggest it may have to do with the effects of excess body fat on a woman’s estrogen levels.

The fact that the risk varied according to women’s HRT use supports this theory, the researchers note.

A strong link between obesity at the age of 18 and a higher risk of ovarian cancer later in life was also revealed.

The team said it is possible that weight in adolescence or young adulthood is even more relevant to ovarian cancer than weight gain later in life.

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