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Dr. Max Gomez: Researchers Identify Obesity As Risk Factor For Ovarian Cancer

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NEW YORK(CBSNewYork) — Researchers have identified and confirmed an important risk factor for ovarian cancer, a disease that strikes 22,000 women, and kills 14,000 women a year in the United States.

As CBS 2’s Dr. Max Gomez reported, risk factors for the disease include genetics, age, hormone treatments, and now a risk factor that women can change, obesity.

Obesity has been a well-known risk factor for breast cancer, colon, and uterine cancer; it has long been suspected to be a risk factor for ovarian cancer.

Ovarian cancer has is a particularly lethal cancer because its symptoms are subtle and similar to other problems.

“I had bloating, I had gas, I had bowel problems. I didn’t have much of an appetite,” Marcia Peters said.

Dr. Sharyn Lewin, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, explained that the disease is typically detected in its later stages.

“We do not have an effective screening mechanism for detecting ovarian cancer at early stages so we usually, unfortunately, detect women when they are stage 3 or 4. Very advanced stages,” Dr. Lewin said.

A massive review has confirmed that too much weight can be a risk factor ovarian cancer.

The World Cancer Research Fund looked at twenty-five previous studies involving 4-million women and found that for every five additional BMI units women had a 6 percent increase of developing ovarian cancer.

Five extra BMI units translates to an average of about 30 lbs of weight.

“I think what is new with this study is just the magnitude, the increased risk that we’ve seen,” Dr. Lewin said, “How obesity plays a role in ovarian cancer development and the magnitude of that effect is what is new with this particular article.”

The reason that increased weight is risky is that fat tissue actually makes hormones, in this case estrogen, which is known to increase the risk ovarian cancer.

The good news is that weight is one of the few risk factors women can actually modify.

“Identifying a healthy body weight and ways to modify that with exercise, appropriate diets, that is one risk factor that patients can really do something about,” Dr. Lewin said.

The 6 percent increase in risk per 30 lbs is bad enough but when combined with other risk factors it becomes even more significant.

Dr. Lewin said that women with a family history of ovarian cancer should be tested for BRCA mutations. The so-called breast cancer gene also increase risk for ovarian cancer.

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