Ovarian cancer is the sixth most common cause of cancer death in women and is responsible for about 5% of all cancer deaths in Australian women.
It’s a cancer than can be difficult to diagnose at an early stage and there are few effective, non-invasive and easily accessed screening programs for ovarian cancer and the symptoms are often vague and similar to that of other illnesses. Some of the factors known to increase a woman’s risk of ovarian cancer include older age, family history, starting your menstrual cycle early (before the age of 12), late menopause and not having children.
Conversely, multiple births and prolonged breastfeeding have been linked to lower risk of ovarian cancer. Little is known about modifiable lifestyle factors interacting with ovarian cancer risk but physical activity has been hypothesised as one due to its link to reduction of risk of some other cancers. Researchers explored the potential association between physical activity and ovarian cancer outcomes.
The first study involved close to 7000 women with ovarian cancer. The women who reported being inactive in the years leading up to their diagnosis were between 22% and 34% more likely to die of ovarian cancer compared to women who were quite active during the lead up to their diagnosis.
The second study investigated the risk of developing ovarian cancer. Of the 8300 women involved in the study, those who reported being physically inactive during their lives had a 34% higher risk of being diagnosed with ovarian cancer compared to those who reported regularly exercising.
Both studies were observational so a cause and effect link cannot be confirmed. Nevertheless, physical activity has been linked to outcomes associated with other cancers such as colon and breast cancers, so it is not implausible that the benefits extend to ovarian cancer. It’s never too late to start exercising – if you’re inactive talk to your doctor about developing an exercise program that suits your capabilities.
Reference: Cannioto, RA et al. Recreational physical inactivity and mortality in women with invasive epithelial ovarian cancer: evidence from the Ovarian Cancer Association Consortium. British Journal of Cancer Epub online June 14, 2016. doi: 10.1038/ bjc.2016.153.