The American Craft Exposition (ACE) has a long tradition of supporting women’s health issues. This year’s show, being held September 25-27, will once again support ovarian cancer prevention research at NorthShore University HealthSystem (NorthShore). As the leading cause of death among women that develop cancers of the gynecologic tract, ovarian cancer has been the focus of many research studies. Much of the research done to determine the causes and prevention of ovarian cancer has led to information about the pathology and biology of other gynecologic cancers including uterine, cervical, vulvar and vaginal.
To help recognize Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month and the upcoming American Craft Exposition, Northshore University HealthSystem Oncologist, Gustavo Rodriguez, MD, shares the top nine facts and research advancements that you need to know about gynecologic cancers:
- Ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer deaths in women in the U.S. Like most cancers, ovarian cancer is more treatable if detected early. Early detection is key as nearly three quarters of women with ovarian cancer are in the advanced-stages of the disease at the time of diagnosis.
- Ovarian cancer may originate in the fallopian tubes. A growing body of evidence suggests that a significant number of tumors designated as ovarian cancers may actually have their cellular origin in the fallopian tubes. Transformed cells originating in the fallopian tube may shed and then implant themselves in the ovary or elsewhere in the abdomen. This discovery could lead to future preventative techniques that include removing the fallopian tubes.
- Incidence of uterine cancer is on the rise. Uterine cancer is the most common type of cancer of the gynecologic tract. Outcomes for uterine cancer are generally more positive due to early detection. However, stage for stage, uterine cancer is as deadly as ovarian cancer and deaths from uterine cancer have more than doubled in the last ten years. Researchers are beginning to look at uterine and ovarian cancers together as it may be possible to use pharmacologic approaches that simultaneously prevent both.
- Birth control pills actually lower ovarian cancer risk and the impact is quite dramatic. Using birth control for just three years lowers risk by as much as 50%. Dr. Rodriguez’s research has delved into finding the underlying biological mechanisms that cause this risk reduction. His team discovered that the birth control pill turns on molecular programs that serve to clear genetically damaged cells in the gynecologic tract. In other words, the birth control pill helped boost the body’s natural ability to get rid of damaged cells. It is likely that the progestin in the pill is acting as a classic cancer-preventative agent in the ovary which lowers ovarian cancer risk.
- Vitamin D production, which you can receive from sunlight exposure, might be protecting you from ovarian and other cancers. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with an increased risk for a number of cancers, including breast and gynecologic cancers. An important area of research focus in Dr. Rodriguez’s laboratory has been on how Vitamin D production helps to prevent both ovarian and uterine cancers. In the laboratory, Vitamin D has been shown to enhance the effect of progesterone in turning on cancer-preventative molecular pathways in the gynecologic tract. This research is supported by the different occurrences of gynecologic cancers across populations in various geographic locations. For example, the farther a woman lives from the equator, the higher her risk of ovarian cancer due to her diminished exposure to sunlight and natural Vitamin D.
- Women who have a strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer are at an increased risk of ovarian cancer. Knowing your risk factors early on allows you to consider a number of different interventions that can effectively prevent these cancers including the removal of ovaries or fallopian tubes at the completion of childbearing or by the age of 40.
- The more times a woman ovulates in her lifetime, the higher her risk for ovarian cancer. Egg laying hens are one of the only other animals that get ovarian cancer spontaneously. Studies into the egg laying hens have supported the hypothesis that there is a link between the ovulatory event and ovarian cancer risk. Dr. Rodriguez’s team is in the process of exploring preventative interventions for ovarian cancer and measuring their effectiveness.
- Women may be dismissing early symptoms of gynecologic cancers. Women suffering from non-specific abdominal and pelvic symptoms such as bloating, nausea, GI upset, change in bladder or bowel function and irregular bleeding could be showing symptoms of cancer. Though many of these symptoms may be wholly unrelated to cancer, Dr. Rodriguez urges women to be evaluated, including a pelvic exam, if any of these symptoms persist. He also encourages women to always speak with their healthcare professional if irregular bleeding is occurring at any time.
- Become informed about ovarian and other gynecologic cancers. It is important to receive check-ups annually and to do your own research to become more informed about gynecologic cancers. Finding reputable resources can feel overwhelming, but NorthShore has long been committed to empowering patients with the right information. In addition to the resources on NorthShore’s website, Dr. Rodriguez recommends this video from No Evidence of Disease (N.E.D.), a group of six gynecologic cancer surgeons who formed a band to inform, heal and empower women around the subject of gynecologic cancers. Additionally, he points to the Foundation for Women’s Cancer, which has a website full of information about gynecologic cancers.
Since the American Craft Exposition’s (ACE) inception, it has raised nearly $5 million for ovarian and breast cancer research initiatives at NorthShore. You can directly support Dr. Rodriguez’s work by attending this year’s ACE at the Chicago Botanic Garden from September 25-27. Purchase your tickets here today.