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Ovarian Cancer

Milk Cuts Ovarian Cancer Risk By 50 Percent

 By Dr. Gifford Jones

How can we change these grim facts? That we can’t diagnose early ovarian cancer. And that once this malignancy spreads to other organs, 85 percent of women are dead within five years. Every doctor asks himself this question when confronted with the tragic confirmation of this disease. Now a new study shows that drinking milk cuts the risk of ovarian cancer by 50 percent!

It’s logical for women to ask, “Why can’t doctors diagnose early ovarian cancer?” After all, we live in an era of CT scans, MRI’s, ultrasound and blood tests. Unfortunately none of these tests can spot “early” malignancies of the ovary.

The problem is anatomy. The Creator was friendly to women when he or she placed the cervix at the end of the vagina. This made it easy for doctors to see the cervix and do a Pap smear to detect early malignancy in this location. But The Almighty was not friendly when he or she buried the female ovaries in an inaccessible location deep inside the abdomen. It’s this embedded placement that defeats physicians and technology.

Some women are at greater risk than others. A family history of ovarian cancer among first degree relatives (mother, sister, daughter) increases the risk. And women who have used fertility drugs to achieve pregnancy also face a greater risk.

The use of birth control pills, on the other hand, cuts the risk of ovarian cancer in half. There’s also decreased risk for women who have had several children, a tubal sterilization or hysterectomy with conservation of ovaries.

Since no test to date can diagnose early ovarian cancer there’s only one answer. Prevention of ovarian cancer must be given high priority. Particularly, when the suggestion such as milk, carries no risk. It’s a rare situation today when so many drugs are associated with side effects.

Dr. Marc T. Goodman and his colleagues at the University of Hawaii collected dietary data on 588 women diagnosed with ovarian cancer with an average age of 54. They then studied the dietary habits of 607 women of similar ages who were free of this disease.

Dr. Goodman recently reported his unexpected findings in the American Journal of Epidemiology. The study showed that the consumption of dairy products including butter was associated with a significant reduction in the risk of ovarian cancer. Women who consumed at least 1,107 milligrams (mg) of calcium on a daily basis had half the risk of developing ovarian cancer as women who consumed less than 528 mg daily.

Dr. Goodman’s “dairy products” did not include whole milk, cheese or yogurt. And unfortunately if you’re rushing out to buy ice cream this did not reduce the risk of ovarian cancer.

Dr. Goodman is not certain how calcium acts to decrease of this malignancy. There is evidence that lactose may promote the growth of lactic acid bacteria which fight cancer growth. Or that an unidentified component of dairy milk exerts an effect on malignant cells.

But regardless of how milk decreases the risk of ovarian cancer it’s also a win win prescription for osteoporosis (brittle bones) which indirectly kills more women than ovarian cancer. Women need 1200 mg of calcium daily and three glasses of milk provide 900 mg.

Several investigators are now working on a blood test for early ovarian cancer. In effect, they are copying the PSA test designed to diagnose early prostate cancer in men. One test called CA 125 is already being used, but unfortunately it can miss ovarian cancer or equally tragic diagnose malignancy that is not present.

Other researchers are trying to use the Pap smear approach. Some doctors are scraping the surface of ovaries every five years in an attempt to detect cancer cells. But this involves inserting a needle into the abdomen which severely limits its use as a generalized screening procedure.

The sad conclusion? Until doctors develop a method for early diagnosis of ovarian cancer women must use every means to prevent this disease. At the moment they have nothing to lose and much to gain by the prescription “drink three glasses of milk every day.”

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Dr. Gifford Jones  Bio
Dr. Gifford Jones Most recent columns

W. Gifford-Jones M.D is the pen name of Dr. Ken Walker graduate of The Harvard Medical School. He’s been a ship’s surgeon, hotel physician and family doctor and later trained in surgery at McGill in Montreal, University of Rochester N.Y. and Harvard. His medical column is published by 60 Canadian newspapers and several in the U.S. He is the author of seven books. Dr. Walker has a medical practice in Toronto. His Web site is: http://www.mydoctor.ca/gifford-jones

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