Milk cuts risk of ovarian cancer

A perfectly logical question for women to ask is, Why can’t doctors diagnose ovarian cancer in its early, more curable stages? After all, we live with the scientific luxury of CT scans, MRIs, ultrasound and blood tests. Unfortunately, none of these tests can spot early malignancies of the ovary.

The problem is anatomy. The Creator was friendly to women when he or she placed the cervix at the end of the vagina. This made it easy for doctors to see the cervix and conduct a Pap smear to detect the first stages of malignancy. But the Almighty was not friendly when he or she buried the female ovaries deep inside the abdomen. It’s this embedded positioning that defeats physicians and technology.

Dr. Marc T. Goodman is a researcher at the University of Hawaii. His findings may help change a grim fact of ovarian cancer: once this malignancy has spread to other organs, 85 per cent of women are dead within five years.
Goodman and his colleagues collected dietary data on 588 women with an average age of 54, who were diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Then, they studied the eating habits of 607 women of similar ages who were free of this disease.

Milk cuts rk by 50 per cent
He recently reported his unexpected findings in the American Journal of Epidemiology. The study showed that drinking milk cuts the risk of ovarian cancer by 50 per cent. Women who consumed at least 1,107 milligrams (mg) of calcium from dietary sources on a daily basis had half the risk of developing ovarian cancer as women who consumed less than 528 mg.

Goodman did not include cheese or yogurt in his dairy products basket. Unfortunately, ice cream did not reduce the risk of ovarian cancer either.

Some women are more likely to develop ovarian cancer than others. A family history of ovarian malignancy among first-degree relatives (mother, sister, daughter) increases the risk. And women who have used fertility drugs to achieve pregnancy also face a greater probability of developing the disease.

Next page: Prevention must be given a high priority

But there’s good news for postmenopausal women who previously used birth control pills. This cuts the risk of ovarian cancer by 40 per cent. Moreover, once the pill is stopped, this protection against ovarian malignancy lasts for 10 to 15 years. There is also decreased risk for women who have had several children, a tubal sterilization or hysterectomy with conservation of ovaries.

Since no test to date can diagnose early ovarian cancer, there’s only one answer: prevention must be given high priority, especially when a simple protective agent, such as milk, carries no risk. That’s rare today, when so many drugs are associated with side effects.

Goodman is not certain how calcium decreases this malignancy. There is evidence that lactose may promote the growth of lactic acid bacteria, which fight cancer growth, or that an unidentified component of dairy milk affects malignant cells. So it’s important to take milk rather than simply taking calcium tablets.

But regardless of how milk cuts the risk of ovarian cancer, it’s a win-win prescription that also combats osteoporosis (brittle bones), which indirectly kills more women than ovarian cancer. Three glasses of milk provide 900 mg of the 1,200 mg of calcium women need daily.

André Gide, the novelist and philosopher, once started a lecture by saying, “All this has been said before, but since no one was listening, it must be said again.” I have repeatedly stressed to patients that drinking milk isn’t just for children. It should be a lifelong habit.

Several researchers are now working on a blood test for detecting early-stage ovarian cancer. In effect, they are copying the PSA test designed to diagnose early prostate cancer in men.

Other researchers are scraping the surface of ovaries every five years in an attempt to detect cancer cells. But this involves inserting a needle into the abdomen, which renders it impractical as a generalized screening procedure.
The sad conclusion? Until doctors develop a method for early diagnosis of ovarian cancer women must use every means to prevent this disease. They have nothing to lose and much to gain by following the prescription, Drink three glasses of milk every day.

Dr. W. Gifford-Jones is the pen name of Ken Walker, MD, who practices medicine in Toronto.