New research led by Cancer Institute NSW fellow Dr Pradeep Tanwar is linking the combined oral contraceptive pill to reducing the risk of ovarian cancer in women.
First reported by ABC Newcastle’s Robert Virtue on 17 February, the results from Dr Tanwar’s team show pills high in progesterone can supress the growth of ovarian cancer cells.
Speaking to the Institute, Dr Tanwar describes the research at the University of Newcastle as a significant step in both treating and preventing the disease, potentially improving the lives of many women.
“We show that oestrogen promotes the growth of ovarian cancer cells, and progesterone (which contraceptive pills can be high in) suppresses the growth of ovarian cancer cells,” Dr Tanwar says.
“This work provides strong evidence for the benefits of progesterone and progesterone-based oral contraceptives in decreasing ovarian cancer risk.”
In treating ovarian cancer, Dr Tanwar says the findings could hold significant benefits for women undergoing chemotherapy.
“In our study, we have found the addition of progesterone reduces the amount of chemotherapy required for killing human ovarian cancer cells,” he says.
“This combination (chemotherapy and progesterone) will achieve the same anti-tumour activity with less side effects.”
Dr Pradeep Tanwar - University of Newcastle researcher and Cancer Institute NSW fellow.
Dr Tanwar, supported by a Cancer Institute NSW fellowship grant for ovarian cancer research, says his passion for helping people with the disease first started when he met ovarian cancer patients.
“When I realised that there is no cure for this disease, even for chemosensitive tumours, I started working,” he says.
“I am quite indebted to the Institute for supporting me from early stages; the fellowship helped us in taking more risks in tackling big questions in the field that still need to be answered.”
Dr Tanwar’s team has submitted its research to be peer reviewed, and is currently seeking funding to develop a clinical trial.
Ovarian cancer ranks seventh in cancer deaths among women, but there is no screening test for early detection.
Risk is seen to increase with age, with the majority of cases diagnosed in women aged 50 years and over, but cases in younger women 25-49 are not uncommon.
The best prevention is to know the signs:
- abdominal bloating/feeling full, appetite loss
- unexplained weight gain
- back pain
- frequent urination
- abdominal/pelvic pain