Monday, March 30, 2015

Why Angelina’s Fight Against Ovarian Cancer is Relevant to Millennials

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Angelina has been praised for raising awareness of the choices women have when it comes to ovarian cancer. At 39 she’s had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed due to the increased likelihood of ovarian cancer because she carries the BRCA gene mutation. Ovarian cancer mainly affects women in their 50s and older but it’s also the fifth most common cancer among women and causes more deaths than any other type of female reproductive cancer.

Most people first became aware of the BRCA gene mutation when she wrote about her decision to get a double mastectomy in 2013. The gene mutation isn’t common but roughly more than half of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer- with or without the gene mutation- will die. It’s harder to detect in the early stages since it can feel like a bladder or digestive problem so more often than not it’s discovered when it’s Stage 3 or 4. Because of this, women who have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer while in their twenties or thirties are likely to have to undergo surgery. 

The Affordable Care Act includes insurance plans that cover genetic counseling and testing specifically for women with a history of breast and ovarian cancer linked to the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations.  There is no screening test for ovarian cancer. Besides BRCA carriers, women who started menstruating before 12, got pregnant after 30 or have never been pregnant or taken oral contraceptives are at greater risk, according to the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance.

Despite it being considered an “older woman’s cancer,” experts estimate that 500 to 1,000 cases occur in females under age 20. Though there is no way to prevent cancer, there are a few ways to decrease the chance of having ovarian cancer that can also improve your overall health. Like Angelina stated at the end of her piece, “knowledge is power.”

  • Add Flaxseed to your diet: Flaxseed is the richest plant source of alpha-linolenic acid, a type of omega-3 fatty acid. One study found that a flaxseed rich diet for one year reduced the severity of ovarian cancer. While it didn’t decrease the incidence of ovarian cancer, it was less likely to metastasize which is the main cause of death with this type of cancer.

  • Take aspirin daily: A recent study showed it may reduce their risk of ovarian cancer by 20 percent. Daily aspirin use has its own side effects including upper gastrointestinal bleeding and hemorrhagic stroke so consult a doctor.

  • Birth control: The use of Depo-Provera for three years or more showed an 83 percent risk reduction. Taking the birth control pill for 15 or more years cuts the risk of ovarian cancer by 58 percent and even women who’ve used it for one to four years cut their risk by 22 percent. These are not recommended as preventative options but if you are taking birth control it certainly helps to know you’re potentially cutting your risk of ovarian cancer by more than half.

  • Workout: Besides hitting the gym more often, there are several healthy foods to incorporate into your diet that also fight cancer including kale, garlic and legumes. A report by the American Institute for Cancer Research and World Cancer Research Fund released last year linked obesity with ovarian cancer.  Researchers found that a 5-point increase in a woman's body-mass index (BMI) increases her risk of ovarian cancer by six percent. A BMI above 25 is considered overweight, while a BMI over 30 is obese.

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