Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month: What You Need to Know

September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness month.  According to the National Cancer Institute, ovarian cancer forms in the tissues of the ovary (one of a pair of female reproductive glands where the ova or eggs are formed).  It is estimated that 22,240 new cases will be diagnosed in the United States in 2013 and there will be 14,030 deaths from the disease this year.

Ovarian cancer can be hard to diagnose and symptoms can be misread as other issues like Irritable Bowel Syndrome, chronic constipation or food sensitivity.  Early detection and screening can save lives.  While there is still not a standard screening test, it’s important for women to visit their gynecologist annually for pelvic exam and other basic physical exam.

As an oncology nutrition specialist at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, in Boston, MA for the past 13 years, I have worked with many ovarian cancer survivors. Overall, eating a healthy plant-based diet, avoiding smoking, getting regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight can help reduce cancer risk.  In terms of ovarian cancer specifically, obesity is a risk factor for developing this form of cancer and being obese also increases the risk of death from the disease. Excess body fat especially during teenage years is of particular risk for young women.  Pregnancy and breastfeeding may also help to reduce a woman’s risk for ovarian cancer.

Ovarian cancer can be treated with surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy and vaccine therapy.  Weight management and clinically appropriate weight loss is important for overweight women going through certain types of treatment.  For some women, symptom management and keeping weight on can be a struggle during treatment.  Constipation is common and as the cancer progresses, risk for bowel obstruction can become a serious concern.  Juicing offers a way for women with ovarian cancer at risk for bowel obstruction to maintain their fruit and vegetable intake, because the insoluble or “roughage/high residue forming” fibers are removed.  Download Dana Farber’s new, free Nutrition App that I worked on, which includes many more recipes and tips.

In terms of reducing risk through diet, beyond obesity prevention and weight management specific eating patterns and foods are being studied for their protective or risk raising effects.  Research is demonstrating that sugary beverages, overall sugar intake and dairy or excessive calcium consumption, including supplements, may increase risk, while consuming veggies, drinking tea, having an adequate Vitamin D blood level and eating flax seed may help reduce risk.  In fact, a 2004 study found that women with a high level of vegetable intake had a significantly lower risk of developing ovarian cancer.  This risk decreased by 10% for each added serving of veggies maintained day to day.

Find out how to reduce your risk of Ovarian Cancer.

Check out some veggie heavy juices here:

Twist of Lime and Fennel Juice
Super Green Detox Juice
Rainbow Summer Juice