Estrogen and Ovarian Cancer

By Mario Ritter

This is the VOA Special English SCIENCE REPORT.

A recent medical study shows that a hormone many women use may increase their chances of getting cancer of the ovaries. Estrogen is a growth chemical produced by organs and tissue in a woman's body. The hormone causes the growth and development of female sexual organs. And it causes a woman to be able to become pregnant.

An estimated twenty-million women in the United States take some kind of estrogen. Doctors give estrogen to older women whose reproductive period has ended. The treatment replaces estrogen that their bodies have stopped producing. The treatment is meant to improve a woman's quality of life and feeling of well-being. Estrogen has been linked to several processes in the body.

Some older women take estrogen to keep their bones from weakening. Research also has shown that estrogen may reduce the risk of some heart disease.

Estrogen is also used in birth-control drugs. One researcher has noted that birth-control drugs reduce the risk of cancer of the ovaries. But not all of the effects of estrogen use are good for a woman's health. The most recent studies show that, in later life, estrogen may increase the risk of cancer of the ovaries.

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that use of estrogen for many years may be harmful. Researchers studied more than two-hundred-thousand healthy older women for fourteen years. Nine-hundred-forty-four of the women died of ovarian cancer. Sixty-six of the women had taken estrogen for more than ten years starting in the Nineteen-Seventies or early Nineteen-Eighties.

The study found that women who took estrogen for more than ten years were more than two times as likely to die of ovarian cancer as women who never took the hormone. However, the doctor who led the study says some women should continue to consider taking estrogen. Carmen Rodriguez says taking the hormone for a short time is probably not harmful. And ovarian cancer is very rare.

Also, estrogen treatment has changed over time. In the past, doctors treated women with large amounts of estrogen alone. Today, doctors give estrogen in smaller amounts. And estrogen is usually given with another hormone, progesterone, to control harmful effects.

This VOA Special English SCIENCE REPORT was written by Mario Ritter.

Voice of America Special English