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Ovarian Cancer Health Center

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Ovarian Cancer: No Smoke, Alcohol Link

Smoking and Drinking May Not Affect Ovarian Cancer Risk, and Caffeine Might Help
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Jan. 22, 2008 -- Smoking and drinking may not make ovarian cancer more likely, and caffeine may cut ovarian cancer risk.

That finding comes from a new ovarian cancer study of more than 110,000 U.S. female nurses who were followed for nearly 30 years.

The nurses completed health and smoking surveys every two years. Most also completed diet surveys every four years.

During the study, 737 women were diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

Drinkers, current smokers, and former smokers weren't more likely than teetotalers and lifelong nonsmokers to develop ovarian cancer.

There was one exception. A certain type of ovarian cancer called mucinous tumors was about twice as common among current or former smokers than among women who never smoked. The reason for that pattern isn't clear, since few women developed such tumors.

Caffeine and Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer was rarer among caffeine users than among women who never consume caffeine.

Women with the highest caffeine intake -- equivalent to more than three daily cups of coffee -- were 20% less likely to develop ovarian cancer, compared with women with the lowest caffeine intake. Ovarian cancer was even rarer among caffeine users who had never used birth control pills or postmenopausal hormone therapy.

Caffeinated coffee -- but not tea or cola -- was associated with decreased risk of ovarian cancer.

For instance, women who drank at least three daily cups of caffeinated coffee were 25% less likely to get ovarian cancer than women who never drank caffeinated coffee.

But the researchers -- who included Harvard Medical School's Shelley Tworoger, PhD -- aren't telling women to go for caffeine for ovarian cancer prevention.

Observational studies such as this one don't prove cause and effect. That is, Tworoger's team didn't test caffeine for ovarian cancer prevention.

Ovarian Cancer Facts

Ovarian cancer is the most deadly cancer of the female reproductive system. Its high death rate is partly due to the lack of early detection and screening tests.

In June 2007, three cancer organizations -- the American Cancer Society, the Gynecologic Cancer Foundation, and the Society of Gynecologic Oncologists -- warned women about possible symptoms of ovarian cancer.

In a joint statement, those cancer organizations urged women to see a doctor if they have these symptoms almost daily for more than a few weeks:

  • Bloating
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
  • Urinary symptoms (urge or frequency)

Those symptoms aren't always due to ovarian cancer, which often doesn't have any early symptoms.

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