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March 19, 2014 | 3 minute read

Major New Report Finds Obesity Ups Ovarian Cancer Risk

For the first time, AICR’s analysis of the global research on diet, physical activity and weight finds that excess body fat increases women’s risk of ovarian cancer, the most deadly gynecological cancer in the United States.

Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity and the Prevention of Ovarian Cancer is part of the American Institute for Cancer Research and World Cancer Research Fund (AICR/WCRF) Continuous Update Project.

The findings means that ovarian cancer now joins the growing list of cancers whose risk is increased by carrying excess body fat. That list includes post-menopausal breast cancer, colorectal cancer, endometrial cancer, esophageal cancer, kidney cancer, gallbladder cancer and pancreatic cancer. AICR now estimates that being at a healthy weight could prevent 1 in 5 of these cases – or approximately 120, 900 cancer cases every year. (See below)

For the report, an expert panel of scientists analyzed 128 population studies that investigated how diet, weight and activity link to ovarian cancer. The 25 studies that focused on weight included 4 million women, 16,000 of whom developed ovarian cancer. The report showed a dose-response relationship: a six percent increased risk of developing ovarian cancer for every 5-point increase in BMI, a common measure of body fatness.

Every year in the U.S., approximately 14,000 women die from ovarian cancer. It is the fifth leading cause of cancer death, mainly because difficulty in detection means many women are not diagnosed until the disease’s later stages.

In the U.S., approximately two-thirds of women are overweight or obese, placing them at increased risk for developing any of the eight cancers now known to be related to body weight.

The report also found that being tall as an adult increased risk factor for ovarian cancer: Women taller than 5 feet 8 inches are at higher risk than shorter women. A person’s height is caused by many inter-related factors, both genetic and environmental. It is not tallness itself that is the increased risk, but some of the factors that play a role in height.

The CUP monitors and analyzes research on cancer prevention and draws conclusions on how lifestyle factors such as weight, diet and physical activity can reduce the risk of developing cancer. A panel of independent experts determines whether the scientific evidence has changed and how it affects AICR/WCRF’s 10 Recommendations for Cancer Prevention. The CUP has so far reported on breast, colorectal, pancreatic, endometrial and ovarian cancers.

Source: American Institute for Cancer Research/World Cancer Research Fund. Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity and the Prevention of Ovarian Cancer. March 2014. Download Full Report (pdf) on The Continuous Update Project site.

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