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Alternative Medicine and Ovarian Cancer

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Updated May 31, 2012

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Because ovarian cancer is often very difficult to treat, some patients consider turning to alternative medicine for help in fighting the disease. However, no type of alternative medicine has been found to be effective in treating or preventing ovarian cancer. Still, preliminary research suggests that some types of alternative medicine may help protect against ovarian cancer to some degree.

Alternative Medicine and Ovarian Cancer Prevention

Although there's no known way to prevent ovarian cancer, some self-care strategies may help reduce your risk of developing the disease. To start, you may be able to lower your overall cancer risk by maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, not smoking, and following a healthy diet. Eliminating certain risk factors (such as the use of estrogen-only hormone replacement therapy after menopause) may also help lower your ovarian cancer risk.

Preliminary research suggests that some natural substances commonly used in alternative medicine may also aid in ovarian cancer prevention. For instance, a 2010 study on hens found that those fed a flaxseed-enriched diet for one year had fewer late-stage ovarian tumors and higher survival rates (compared to hens that weren't fed flaxseed). However, the flaxseed-fed hens didn't experience a decreased incidence of ovarian cancer. It should also be noted that researchers have yet to determine whether flaxseed could have the same effect in human cases of ovarian cancer.

Other research links reduced risk of ovarian cancer to increased consumption of green tea (an antioxidant-rich substance sometimes taken in supplement form in alternative medicine). In a 2002 study of 254 ovarian cancer patients and 652 ovarian-cancer-free controls, for example, researchers found that those who had consumed green tea the most frequently and for the longest duration were the least likely to develop ovarian cancer.

Alternative Medicine and Ovarian Cancer Treatment

In order to boost your chances of recovery from ovarian cancer, it's important to detect and treat the disease as early as possible. However, since women with ovarian cancer often have no symptoms (or only mild symptoms) until the disease reaches an advanced stage, ovarian cancer is notoriously difficult to treat. Treatment of ovarian cancer typically involves the use of surgery, followed by chemotherapy.

Although there's no scientific support for the use of alternative medicine in treatment of ovarian cancer, test-tube research suggests that pre-treatment with curcumin (a compound found in the curry spice turmeric) may help make ovarian cancer cells more vulnerable to the effects of chemotherapy and radiation treatment. However, scientists have yet to test this procedure in clinical trials.

Should You Use Alternative Medicine for Ovarian Cancer?

Since there's no proof that any type of alternative medicine can prevent or treat ovarian cancer, no natural remedy or alternative therapy can be recommended as a means of fighting ovarian cancer. To protect against ovarian cancer, focus on reducing your risk factors, and consult your physician if you experience any ovarian cancer symptoms, such as a heavy feeling in the pelvis, pain in your lower abdomen, abnormal vaginal bleeding, unexplained weight gain or loss, abnormal periods, and unexplained back pain that worsens over time.

Sources:

Ansenberger K, Richards C, Zhuge Y, Barua A, Bahr JM, Luborsky JL, Hales DB. "Decreased severity of ovarian cancer and increased survival in hens fed a flaxseed-enriched diet for 1 year." Gynecol Oncol. 2010 117(2):341-7.

Lee AH, Fraser ML, Binns CW. "Possible role for green tea in ovarian cancer prevention." Future Oncol. 2005 1(6):771-7.

Yallapu MM, Maher DM, Sundram V, Bell MC, Jaggi M, Chauhan SC. "Curcumin induces chemo/radio-sensitization in ovarian cancer cells and curcumin nanoparticles inhibit ovarian cancer cell growth." J Ovarian Res. 2010 29;3:11.

Zhang M, Binns CW, Lee AH. "Tea consumption and ovarian cancer risk: a case-control study in China." Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2002 11(8):713-8.

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