Most women don’t think about ovarian cancer. With no family history for roughly 90 percent, they know little about it. Consequently, few ever think to take protective measures that could lower their risk. However, there is something women can do that not only lowers their risk, but also reduces the risk of recurrence. Walk.
Over the last few years, medical studies have shown that moderate exercise, like walking, reduces the risk of several cancers. An American Cancer Society study, led by Alpa Patel, showed women who are active, lowered their risk of breast cancer by nearly 30 percent. For those with a breast cancer history, researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard University found that the risk of death from the disease was reduced by 19 percent in patients who walk 1-3 hours/week, by 54 percent by walking 3-5 hours/week and 42 percent for those walking 5-7 hours/week.
Kaiser Permanente and the University of Utah found that men and women lowered their risk of colorectal cancer with exercise (American Journal of Epidemiology No.3:214-224) and a study by Vanderbilt University showed reduction of endometrial cancer by as much as 40 percent with exercise(www.aphroditewomenshealth.com/news/20040231001140_health_news.shtml).
Ovarian cancer, on the other hand, is so aggressive that the disease seems completely out of our control. After following hundreds of patients and thousands of women, researchers at the Public Health Agency of Canada found a decrease in the risk of the disease with moderate physical activity (www.interscience.wiley.com/journal/ijc.).
The reasons for the reduction in risk may be due to enhancement of the immune system and increased antioxidant defense systems, which occurs with moderate exercise but is reduced with extreme exercise.
Some researchers speculate that the benefit is a result of exercise regulating the hormone and growth factor levels that occurs with physical activity.
The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle studied 114 postmenopausal, overweight, sedentary women and found that, with moderate exercise, they were able to reduce their cancer risk markers. Exercising 45 minutes a day, five days a week, women were tested over a year for two blood markers that show inflammation (C-reactive protein and serum amyloid) which are associated with cancer risk and survival.
And finally, the National Geographic longevity report, the Blue Zones, found that people live longer when they live in “walk-able” communities, a common condition of people around the globe who live the longest, healthiest lives.
The bottom line: Get in motion. The American Cancer Society recommends 30 minutes or more per day, five days a week. Of course, exercise is not a guarantee against getting cancer and I know of fit women who still develop it. But if you can help reduce your risk, improve your chance of survival, and generally feel better, why wouldn’t you?