September 2016
In This Issue
Ovarian Cancer 

Institute Happenings 

Upcoming Events 
  Recent Blogs 

Dear Friends, 

September 1st marks the start of Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. Although ovarian cancer is rare, it remains the deadliest gynecological cancer. In this issue, we will review some of the risk factors, signs and symptoms, and current research related to ovarian cancer. We encourage you to share this information with the other women in your life as early detection and diagnosis can save lives. 

Nicole C. Woitowich, PhD
Director of Science Outreach and Education 
Ovarian Cancer  
The National Institutes of Health estimates that in 2016, over 22,000 women in the U.S.  will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer [1]. As we mentioned earlier, the risk of developing ovarian cancer is low, with a lifetime risk of about 1.4%, yet it is the deadliest type of gynecological caner [2]. This is because the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer may mimic those of other health ailments. This can delay detection and diagnosis, thus resulting in anadvanced form of cancer that is more difficult to treat. 

What are the symptoms of ovarian cancer?
Because the ovaries are located within the pelvic cavity, symptoms of ovarian cancer might be mistaken for common gastrointestinal or urinary disturbances. According to the National Library of Medicine,  symptoms of ovarian cancer may include [3]: 

  • Bloating, gas, and nausea
  • Feeling full after eating
  • Pain in the lower abdomen  
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Frequent urination
  • Spotting in between periods

If you think these symptoms sound like they could be attributed to causes such as indigestion, acid reflux, urinary tract infections, or stress – you would be right. In those cases, symptoms usually resolve in a short amount of time. But if you experience these symptoms on a daily basis, for more than a few weeks, you should see your doctor. 
Ovarian Cancer in the Spotlight:
In 2013, celebrity Angelina Jolie made headlines by publicly sharing her decision to have an elective double mastectomy and later, removal of her ovaries and fallopian tubes in 2015 [6]. A strong family history of cancer encouraged Jolie to be tested for the  BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations which are implicated in the development of breast and ovarian cancer. It was revealed that she was a carrier for the BRCA1 mutation, and as a preventative measure she decided to have the tissues most likely to harbor cancer removed. By sharing her story, Jolie raised awareness about breast and ovarian cancer, and made BRCA mutations a household name.
Who is at risk of developing ovarian cancer? 

While ovarian cancer is rare, there are several factors that may put women at a greater risk of developing ovarian cancer [2,3]. These may include:

  • Advanced age 
  • European ancestry
  • Being nulliparous or never having children 
  • Family history of breast or ovarian cancer 
  • Mutations in BRCA1 or BRAC2 genes (see Ovarian Cancer in the Spotlight
  • Starting menstruation at an early age or going into menopause at a later age 

Despite extensive research, it still remains unclear how these risk factors cause ovarian cancer. One theory suggests that the number of times a woman ovulates in her lifetime may be linked to the development of ovarian cancer [4]. This is known as the “Incessant Ovulation” hypothesis. From the time a woman begins menstruating, until she reaches menopause, ovulation occurs with each menstrual cycle. An egg (or ovum) is released when a mature ovarian follicle on the surface of the ovary bursts open. Thus, the tissue on the surface of the ovary needs to repair itself after each cycle. It is thought that cancer causing mutations may occur during the repair process. Women who do not have any children, or those who have a long reproductive life span, have more continuous ovulatory cycles and are at greater risk for developing ovarian cancer compared to those who have had “breaks” from ovulation during pregnancy and lactation, according to this hypothesis.

How can you reduce your risk of ovarian cancer?   
For women who are concerned about developing ovarian cancer, taking oral contraceptives might be one simple way to mitigate risk. Oral contraceptives prevent ovulation, and in turn combat the “incessant ovulation,” theory. In fact, research has shown that the longer a woman uses oral contraceptives, the more she can reduce her risk of developing ovarian cancer [5]. Yet, taking oral contraceptives comes with its own risks and may not be suitable for everyone so it is best to discuss this option with your doctor.  
Want more information? 

Check out some of the WHRI blogs related to ovarian cancer: 

Clinical resources can be found through the Ovarian Cancer Early Detection and Prevention Program at Northwestern Medicine. 

Institute Happenings 
On January 25th, 2016 the NIH implemented a policy which requires all federally funded research to consider sex as a biological variable.
To commemorate the anniversary of this policy, the Women's Health Research Institute will be hosting a Sex Inclusion in Biomedical Research Workshop and Symposia on Wednesday, January 25th, 2017! 

More information about registration and abstract submission will be available soon! 

Upcoming Events 

September 12th, 2016 1:00pm-3:00pm: Ask Me Anything (AMA) digital interview with WHRI Director, Dr. Teresa Woodruff, on Reddit Science. Questions can be submitted online by clicking here on the morning of the interview! 

September 13th, 2016 12:00pm-1:00pm: The Women's Health Research Institute's monthly research forum featuring Dr. Melissa Brown
"Why Sex Matters in Multiple Sclerosis and Other Autoimmune Diseases"
  This activity has been submitted to the Ohio Nurses Association for approval to award contact hours. The Ohio Nurses Association  ( OBN-001-91) is accredited as an approver of continuing nursing education by the American Nurses Credentialing Center's Commission on Accreditation. 
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