The study, “Socioeconomic Status in Relation to the Risk of Ovarian Cancer in African-American Women: A Population-Based Case-Control Study,” is published in the American Journal of Epidemiology and highlights the need for additional evidence to thoroughly characterize the association between socioeconomic status and ovarian cancer.
A team of researchers led by Anthony J. Alberg, PhD, MPH, interim director of the MUSC Hollings Cancer Center and a professor in the Department of Public Health Sciences conducted a population-based case-control study including 513 patients with incident ovarian cancer and 721 age- and area-matched control participants from 10 states.
Patients were recruited into the African American Cancer Epidemiology Study from December 2010 through December 2014. Questionnaires were administered via telephone, and study participants responded to questions about several characteristics, including years of education, family annual income, and risk factors for ovarian cancer.
The results revealed that ovarian cancer risk was 29 percent lower among women with a college degree or more, compared with those who had a high school degree or less. In addition, researchers found that ovarian cancer risk was 26 percent lower among women with a household income of $75,000 or greater compared with household incomes of $10,000 or less.
The inverse association with socioeconomic status held true even after researchers controlled for body mass index and a family history of ovarian or breast cancer, both established risk factors for ovarian cancer development.
Lower socioeconomic status (SES) is associated with a higher risk of most, but not all, types of malignancies. Breast cancer is a notable example for which the opposite holds true: That is, higher SES is associated with higher risk of breast cancer risk. This association may be relevant to ovarian cancer because both ovarian and breast cancers are hormonally linked with risks associated with several reproductive characteristics.
“For most types of cancer, people with lower SES are at greater risk,” Alberg said in a news release. “However, the opposite is true for breast cancer, another hormone-related type of cancer that shares many common risk factors with ovarian cancer. The evidence to date for ovarian cancer is limited and has not yielded clear-cut results. This study represents a major step forward in helping to shed light on the relationship between socioeconomic status and ovarian cancer, with results clearly pointing in the direction of higher disease risk in women of lower SES — the opposite of what we see for breast cancer.”
This is one of the first studies focused on women of African ancestry. By establishing an association between lower socioeconomic status and higher disease risk in African-American women, the results raise questions about SES and ovarian cancer risk in other populations that will need to be answered in future studies.
“Important next steps will be to establish whether this same association holds true in women of other races and ethnicities,” Alberg said. “Then we will need to determine the root causes of this relationship between socioeconomic status and ovarian cancer so that we can learn if this may lead to new clues about prevention.”