Researchers from the University of Newcastle in NSW have uncovered what they believe is a game-changing link between the contraceptive pill and the risk of developing ovarian cancer.
The scientists have found that contraceptive pills high in progesterone can decrease a woman’s chance of developing the cancer.
The results of the study could have wider impacts, including challenging how cancer is treated.
The three-year study by a team of 15 researchers at the university, led by Dr Pradeep Tanwar, set out to pinpoint how genetics and life
“When we looked at the earlier [ovarian] lesions, we found that there were a few proteins that were up-regulated and down-regulated, and one of the proteins that was in those lesions was oestrogen receptor and progesterone receptor,” Dr Tanwar said.
“That led us to thinking that maybe the hormones that are secreted by the ovaries are affecting the growth of these lesions.”
The researchers then studied animal and human ovary cells to prove their theory.
“That also connected the dots that contraceptives, especially the contraceptives which are high in progesterone, are able to reduce the risk of ovarian cancer because if there’s a progesterone receptor, which is present in these lesions, then you get progesterone that negatively affects the growth. It suppresses the growth of those lesions,” Dr Tanwar said.
“Every month an egg is released from the ovary, so it causes the breakdown of the ovarian surface. That surface, which is broken now, needs to be repaired, so the cells need to divide.
“What happens is that for division, the DNA needs to open, division occurs, then the DNA needs to close up. That means the DNA is exposed to more environmental factors, leading to DNA damage and that is one of the main reasons for cancers,” he said.
“What we are finding is that high progesterone-based contraceptives reduce ovulation, as well as effect ovarian function, which reduces the chances of getting ovarian cancer.”
style factors combine to cause ovarian cancer.
The scientists studied tissue samples collected at Newcastle’s John Hunter Hospital of women who had a predisposition towards BRCA gene mutations.
Altering Treatment Techniques
Dr Tanwar said the results of his team’s study could prove to be a game-changer in how cancers were treated.
“What we have found is … when we supplement progesterone with chemotherapy, the dose of chemotherapy required to kill the cancer cells is reduced — reduced by almost half,” he said.
“That indicated that it can be used to supplement chemotherapy and reduce the side effect of chemotherapy.
“So if we add progesterone in there, which has already been proven to have very minor side effects, then the side effects of chemotherapy will be reduced.
“We feel that [progesterone] will not be able to replace [chemotherapy], but it will be able to supplement the existing therapies which are available.”
With progesterone supplements already tested and in use, Dr Tanwar said there could be other benefits to their discovery.
“If [progesterone is] found to be effective and it’s already available, then we don’t need to change many policies … We are not putting too much burden on Medicare, but we are getting the same effect.”
Dr Tanwar said his researchers are confident the results so far are definitive.
The research will now move into the next stage, where it will be peer-reviewed and potentially clinically trialled.
Dr Tanwar was optimistic about his work’s future success.
“If we are able to reduce the incidence of ovarian cancer, then we are making a huge difference in the field.”
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