Ovarian Cancer is defined as a malignant neoplasm in the ovarian tissue. It is the second most common cancer in North America. Ovarian cancer is one of the most lethal cancers because of its difficulty in diagnosis. The signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer do not usually show up until the disease has progressed to a metastatic state. 60 – 70% of diagnosed cases have metastasis at the time of diagnosis. It is estimated that 26,800 women in the US will be diagnosed each year and that 14,200 will die from this disease in one year.

The cause of most cancers is synthetic carcinogens. Carcinogens are defined as: “Any substance or agent that produces cancer or increases the risk of developing cancer in humans or… animals” * World Health Organization states that these are the cause for 80% of all cancers.

The most significant synthetic carcinogen in research of cancers is the group of Organochlorines, which are commonly produced in the pesticide, plastic and paper industries worldwide.

The chemicals in some plastics also play a major role in ovarian cancer, especially the dioxin found in many food containers and packaging. Dioxin is a member of the organochlorine family and has an estrogen – mimicking effect on the endocrine system. The ovary is an estrogen – sensitive organ, these estrogenic chemicals like dioxin in the system can actually feed estrogen dependent cancers. These findings are supported by The International Agency for Research on Cancer statement; “Dioxin is carcinogenic to humans and increases the overall risk of cancers”* It should also be noted here that spermicidal foams and lubricants also contain organochlorines. Another abundant source of dioxin is found in some industrialized societies menstrual practices. Mainstream disposable menstrual products are used by thousands of women.

It is in the manufacturing process of these products where the harm begins. Most pads and tampons are made with rayon; some are a rayon/cotton blend. All the major brands and sizes -Playtex, o.b. Tampax, etc. – contain rayon. Rayon is a wood pulp derivative and usually undergoes a bleaching process to get that sanitary white look. The chlorine compounds that are used to manufacture these products release dioxin into the environment and contaminate the products themselves. Even if the product is cotton only, it still may go through this bleaching process and the 157 pesticides allowed in cotton growing laws provide the cells with the dioxin from the pesticides. The toxic effects of dioxin include teratogenic effects, abnormal cell growth, immunological changes, and alterations in metabolic pathways. Dioxin works by a receptor mediated mechanism both in the nucleus (as a transcription factor), and in the cytoplasm (regulating second messengers).

At least 85 million American and Canadian women are in their menstrual years, and the average woman uses 11,400 tampons in her life. This is a constant, repetitive assault on the female reproductive system, one of the results of which is ovarian cancer.

*Taber Cyclopedia Medical Dictionary, Ed. 18, F.A. Davis p.306

* International Agency for Research on Cancer. 1997, Vol. 69 of IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic risks to humans.*

Risk factors for ovarian cancer include increased exposure to radiation, mumps, polycystic hydrocarbons, caffeine, tannic acid, electromagnetic fields, (accumulation of risk factors typically occurs with age, therefore age has been said to be a risk factor as well) nulliparity, primagravida over age 30, history if infertility, breast cancer or endometriosis, talcum powder use in the genital area, tubal ligation or hysterectomy (increased risk by 37%), fertility drugs such as Clomid and Pergonal, accumulation of unexpressed emotions of shame, vengeance or resentment throughout lifetime, having a high socioeconomic status, pregnancy followed by insufficient lactation, geographic location, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, poor dietary habits, (especially a high dairy intake) and family history of the disease.

The radiation exposures include UV light, X rays, radioactive isotopes, ultrasound testing and treatments, and atomic bombs. Electromagnetic fields are emitted by power lines, microwaves, hairdryers, alarm clocks, TVs computer screens etc.

Nulliparity, (never given birth) is a risk factor for ovarian cancer. This may be in part due to the fact that the ovaries and other reproductive organs are never used for their primary function. This also ties into the risk factor of primagravida over the age of 30. The female body was designed to be physically ready to give birth after menarche. Most women in our society have already been fertile for close to 17 years by the time they reach age 30. In my opinion, nature intended some of those years to be anovulatory, pregnant or lactating, therefore decreasing the long menstrual years associated with higher ovarian cancer risks.

The most common geographic locations to have high rates of ovarian cancers are North America and Northwest Europe (which have been correlated to be some of the highest dairy consuming locations). There is a decreased rate in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. In the U.S., white and Hawaiian women are more affected and Native American Women are less affected.

Having a high socioeconomic status provides the availability of risk factors such as alcohol, high fat and animal protein diet, TV, microwaves, and many other mainstream, expensive lifestyle choices.

The information on the link between breastfeeding and ovarian cancer has brought a new level of awareness to the importance of the intended function of the breasts: lactation. The American Cancer Society noted that populations throughout the world, which practice sufficient breastfeeding, have much lower rates of ovarian cancer. The United States is predominantly an artificial-feeding society, and this is reflected in its high rates of ovarian cancer. One of the reasons for this link may be the hormonal state of nursing women, and the common result of increased number of anovulatory months that coincides. The most marked difference in the risk was seen in cultures that breastfed 36 months or longer, but breastfeeding for any length means a reduction of the risk overall.

Not only does the mother/wet nurse receive protection from breast cancer by breastfeeding, but it is now known that the child that is breastfed (or fed breast milk by other means) is at a much lower risk of developing the disease as well. In 1999 The Journal of the National Cancer Institute stated; “We have long known breastfeeding protects children from infection; now evidence suggests its immune-stimulating effects provides protection against cancer.”* The human milk protein alpha-lactalbumin may be the key factor here, as this protein plays a part in targeting cancer cells. As well as directly protecting babies and children, this shows breast milk could effectively be used in a treatment of the already acquired disease. Again it is a conclusion of increased time breastfeeding leads to lower risks of cancer, whether the milk is received by breast, cup, bottle, tube or part of a diet treatment for the disease. The longer that lactation is continued the lower the risk becomes. It is of interest to note that most of the industrialized societies have artificial feeding as a socially acceptable norm, and according to W.H.O. the average age of being breastfed world wide is 4.5 years, this would indicate that there are many other societies balancing out that average by nursing their children to 9 years. * The Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 1999

Sedentary lifestyles, poor diet and obesity fall under some similar categories in their risk for ovarian cancer. Low levels of exercise can lead to decreased circulation of the body’s tissues which can further lead to the build up of toxins. If the diet is poor, toxins may be accumulated and stored in the high amount of fatty tissue seen in obesity. Factors that decrease the risk of the disease are daily aerobic exercise, more than one full term pregnancy, and a whole, unprocessed, organic diet, especially avoiding the intake of dairy foods, which have been shown to produce the sugar, galactose (linked to high rates of ovarian cancer) This may be why lactose intolerant people have less ovarian cancers. Most of the factors I have mentioned can be monitored if not completely avoided during a females lifetime, and with this disease, prevention is a key element. In findings from Harvard School of Public Health, it was noted that 70% of all cancer deaths are due to lifestyle choices.

Most ovarian tumors are epithelial tumors, (90%) most of which occur in the years of age 50 to 60, these rarely occur in adolescence. The classification of tumors is based on the tissue of origin, the most common being the surface epithelium of serosa of ovary. Once a tumor is present, it may spread to the pelvis, abdominal cavity, bladder lymph nodes, liver or lungs. Diagnosis is made by cervical smear, laproscopy, and finally by biopsies. Once found, the tumor is staged, at stages one to four. Stage 1 is only the ovaries affected, Stage 2 is extended to the pelvis, Stage 3 is intraperitoneal metastasis, and Stage 4 is distant metastasis. Treatment involves cystectomy, radiation, removing the entire ovary, and possibly removing fallopian tubes, uterus, omentum, and any tumors of the pelvis. Chemotherapy is often used for stage four. The 5 yr survival rate is 15 – 45% for common epithelial tumors.

Clinical Manifestations: Most signs and symptoms are very vague. Most women with ovarian cancer are asymptomatic, but some of the earlier signs may be abdominal pain, abnormal bleeding, pelvic pain, unexplained weight loss, ascities, cachexia, indigestion, and flatulence, bloating and general fatigue. Some of the red flags to watch for in a Massage Therapy clinic would be undiagnosed pelvic or abdominal pain, swelling of region and any major irregularities in her menstrual cycle.


Womens Bodies, Womens Wisdom. Christiane Northrup, MD

Complete Mother Magazine, Catherine Young (various issues)

Taber’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary, F.A. Davis

Pathology, Goodman and Boissonnault

Vancouver Massage Therapy

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