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Ovarian Cancer Health Center

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Excess Weight a Risk Factor for Ovarian Cancer?

Review adds the disease to long list of tumors linked to obesity


"Contrary to popular belief, fat cells are not the inert compounds we once thought," Heller said. "They are biologically very active cells that produce both anti-inflammatory and inflammatory compounds, as well as hormones and other chemicals."

"An excess of fat cells -- if someone is overweight or obese -- appears to knock off the body's delicate balance of health," Heller said. "This can lead to inflammation and hormonal imbalances, and can promote the growth of cancer cells."

The current report is part of an ongoing project. The last report was published in 2007, Bandera said.

Overall, the report included 25 population-based studies examining how diet, weight and physical activity might affect the risk of ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. A major reason for that is that ovarian cancer often isn't diagnosed until it's in the later stages.

Bandera and her colleagues concluded that body fat is likely a contributing factor to the development of ovarian cancer. The risk is greatest for those with a BMI over 30, she added.

Although the study found an association between body fat and ovarian cancer risk, it did not establish a cause-and-effect link.

The report also found that height is a factor in the development of ovarian cancer, with taller women at higher risk. The reason height is linked to ovarian cancer is unclear, Bandera said, although genetic factors and early growth rates might play a role.

"What this means for cancer prevention is that prevention efforts need to target the life course, not just adulthood, and families, not just individuals," Bandera said.

The researchers said they were unable to conclude if any dietary factors might be protective because there simply weren't enough studies to draw any conclusions.

For now, both experts said maintaining a healthy weight can help prevent some cancers.

"Because we also have evidence linking obesity to other cancers and other chronic diseases, maintenance of healthy weight through a healthy diet and regular exercise is a safe bet to live a healthy life," Bandera said.

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