Talc powder has been cited as a possible cause of ovarian cancer.
Ovarian Cancer Causes
Guide To Ovary Cancer
|What Causes Ovarian Cancer?
The cause of ovarian cancer, like most cancer causes, is unknown. Scientists have identified a number of risk factors such as hereditary genes and age which appear to increase a woman's risk of developing the disease. These are discussed below. However it should be noted, that some women who develop ovarian cancer may have no known risk factors.
The two major functions of the ovaries are to (1) release an egg (ova) for fertilization and to (2) produce steroid hormones (estrogen and progesterone). Each of these functions is performed by certain types of cells in the ovaries. Germ cells produce hormones and stromal cells for example surround the ovaries supporting and keeping them in place. Any of these cell types can turn cancerous. 90 percent of ovary cancers occur on the surface (epithelium) of the ovaries. Most of these tumors occur in younger women and are found in the early and curable stage of the disease. Germ cell cancers and stromal cancers account for 10 percent of all ovary cancers. Occasionally some germ cells stop developing as a fetus, and lie dormant for years and eventually turn into benign or malignant tumors in the ovaries later in life. Granulosa (type of stroma cell) tumors most often occur in postmenopausal women and cause bloating and abdominal pain. Cancer that starts in the ovaries is called primary ovarian cancer. Without treatment it spreads as the tumor penetrates the tissue of the ovary and starts to invade nearby structures. These structures include the fallopian tubes, womb, rectum, bladder, lower colon and sac that line the stomach (peritoneum). Once in the peritoneum the cancer cells causes irritation and a fluid called ascites forms. This fluid causes bloating. From here it can spread to the liver and bowels. Another route for ovarian cancer cells to spread is through the lymph nodes surrounding the ovaries. If they invade the nodes they can spread throughout the body via the lymphatic system. Death from untreated ovarian cancer is most likely to occur if cancer invades the abdomen. Cancer cells in the liver and bowels cause these vital organs to fail.
The most important risk factor for ovary cancer is genetic predisposition. Up to 10 percent of women with epithelial type cancers have BRCA1 or BRCA2 inherited genetic mutations associated with breast cancer. These mutations are probably responsible for all familial (runs in the family) ovary cancers and about 5 percent of all ovary cancers in women under 70. The BRCA genes produce a chemical that helps fight off cancer. If they mutate, they cannot do their job as effectively - as a result, the woman is more prone to developing ovarian or breast cancer at some time in her life.
If you have already had breast or colon cancer, your risk of ovarian cancer is higher. In fact ovary cancer sometimes occurs at the same time as breast, colon and endometrial cancer. This suggests a common cause between these different types of cancer. A genetic condition called Lynch syndrome II can run in families and increases the risk of ovarian, endometrial, colon, kidney and urinary cancers. If a patient develops one of these cancers they should be investigated for all the others as well.
Risks may be higher among lesbian women, although this has not been scientifically proven. A few years ago a researcher at the National Cancer Institute ran a computer model to assess the risk factors of lesbians. The New York Times printed the results and suggested that the risks were higher, perhaps due to lesbians having a less than healthy lifestyle - smoking, drinking, being overweight and not having children. Yet no studies indicate that lesbians drink, smoke or are more overweight than the average non-lesbian American woman, and many do have children. Instead it has been suggested that higher incidences of ovarian cancer in lesbians (if that turns out to be the case) may be due to more practical issues. Some lesbians could avoid screening for fear of homophobic encounters at clinics. And, after diagnosis some doctors may not allow non-family members into the room when important decisions need to be made. These issues are discussed in more detail on the website annieappleseedproject.org
There is some indication that using talc powder in the genital region increases the risk of epithelial cancers. Talc contains chemical particles called hydrous magnesium silicate which act in a similar way to asbestos (asbestos causes a deadly form of lung cancer). These particles are capable of moving through the female reproductive system where they can become embedded in the lining of the ovaries, irritating the cells. According to one study* by Harvard Medical School, using talc just once a week raises your risk of ovary cancer by 36 percent, and up to 41 percent if you use it daily.
Since the early 1990s there has been much media attention on the question can fertility drugs can cause ovarian cancer? Studies at the time (small studies) indicated a link, but more recently larger studies failed to detect an association. One Danish study which evaluated 54,000 women and reported in the British medical journal in 2009 that it could not find an association. However, the risk can not be ruled out conclusively for some time. The National Institutes of Health is currently carrying out a research program, following 10,000 women for the next 30 years who underwent fertility treatment. In the meantime, some fertility clinics recommend not undergoing more than 3 cycles of clomiphene citrate, 3 cycles of injectable medications in conjunction with IUI - and if still not pregnant - 3 cycles of IVF or IVF/ICSI. Women who fail to conceive after 3 cycles of IVF should consider donor egg or adoption.
The Harvard Center for Ethics recently reviewed 61 studies and found a possible link between antidepressant medication use and breast and ovarian cancer. The risk was even present for short-term or low dose usage, and the risk seems strongest with SSRI antidepressants (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors). As women are twice as likely to be given antidepressants as men, this finding should be taken seriously.
• Advancing age: Women over 65 are more prone to the disease.
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