A $566,000 grant, awarded via the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation, will support research in Australia that aims to establish the use of contraceptive pills as an effective strategy for preventing ovarian cancer.
The three-year grant will enable researchers to continue exploring how changes in female reproductive hormones impact the risk of ovarian cancer. Researchers also will study how medications already available may help lessen this risk.
Women who have children or use combined contraceptive pills are at a lower risk of having ovarian cancer — illustrating the link between female reproductive health and cancer development. In fact, using these pills for three to five years has been associated with a nearly 50% decrease in cancer risk, Pradeep Tanwar, PhD, a professor at the University of Newcastle, in Australia, and a researcher at the Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI), said in a press release.
Tanwar, the group leader of the University’s gynecology oncology program, has been studying this correlation for the past 10 years. Through this research, he and his team found in 2016 that contraceptive pills, especially those high in progesterone, may protect against ovarian cancer via the progesterone receptor, found in early ovarian lesions.
Overall, the ongoing work has a big goal: it looks to reframe the use of the contraceptive pill, how hormones drive cancer, and how cancer can be prevented.
“At the moment, there is little advice out there for women who want to reduce their risk of cancer,” Tanwar said. “With the pill, our aim is to shift the focus from birth control to cancer prevention.”
Tanwar’s work looks beyond ovarian cancer, as it also focuses on endometrial cancer, the most frequent gynecological cancer.
“If you take the pill it suppresses your ovaries and you are less likely to develop ovarian cancer, all reproductive tract cancers,” Tanwar said in a university profile.
“This is vital information for women who may be at high risk due to family history, and women who are postponing pregnancies until later in life,” he added.
His team uses animal models and human tissue to find the molecular processes driving cancer and whether existing therapies, or their combination, may be repurposed to help women.
“Fortunately, many drugs are already approved for other gynaecological diseases, which could be used for the purpose of preventing ovarian cancer,” Tanwar said.
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