Delaying motherhood 'may cut cancer risk'

by TIM UTTON, Daily Mail

A study has given hope to women who were told delaying motherhood may have increased their chances of contracting cancer.

A group of scientists now claim putting off having children until later in life may actually lower the risk of developing ovarian cancer.

The survey - which is at odds with much of existing medical opinion - suggests that a woman of 20 who is intending to have just one child reduces her chance of ovarian cancer by around 50 per cent if she delays pregnancy until the age of 45.

The research was carried out among almost 20,000 women in Sweden.

However, leading British gynaecologists and cancer specialists warned last November that delayed motherhood led to an increased risk of ovarian cancer.

Other studies have also suggested that having children later in life increases the risk of breast cancer.

Professor Gordon McVie, joint director general of Cancer Research UK, said yesterday: 'The Swedish data confirms the notion that the genetic basis of ovarian cancer is different from the genetic nature of breast cancer.

'But, nonetheless, this study is going to thoroughly confuse women, bearing in mind the links between later motherhood and breast cancer. Most won't have a clue what to do now.

'What is a woman to do, if she is 35, hasn't had children yet and then wants to try? It poses a real dilemma for women.'

The real advances in ovarian cancer treatment would come when the genes which caused the disease were identified, said Professor McVie.

Professor Ian Jacobs, president of the British Gynaecological Cancer Society and consultant gynaecological oncologist at St Bartholomew's Hospital in London, said the subtle nature of the disease made it difficult to pin down exactly what caused it.

He added: 'This is one example of how littered the field of ovarian cancer is with inconsistencies and conflicting data.

'I have no doubt the Swedish paper is true, but if you ask me whether it is better to have one pregnancy at 45 or two pregnancies at 25 and 30, I would be at a complete loss.'

Previous studies have already found a clear link between the contraceptive Pill - used by a third of Western women as their main method of family planning - and a reduced risk of ovarian cancer.

Ovarian cancer - known as the 'silent' cancer because it has few obvious symptoms - has risen by a fifth in England and Wales since 1980 and by a quarter in Scotland.

If caught early, the disease can be cured by surgery. However, by the time many women visit their GP, the disease has spread.

Almost 7,000 new cases are diagnosed each year, and survival rates in Britain remain low, with fewer than a third of women still alive five years after being diagnosed, according to Cancer Research UK.

Ovarian cancer is the fourth biggest cancer killer of women.

The new study, published in The Lancet medical journal, was led by Swedish academic Dr Hans-Olov Adami.

Dr Adami said: 'After correcting for the number of pregnancies, the risk of ovarian cancer decreased by about 10 per cent for each five-year increment in age at first childbirth.'

The study does back up some established findings, including the fact that the more pregnancies a woman has, the less likely she is to suffer ovarian cancer.

Cherie Blair and Madonna are among those who have had babies in their forties, while the average age of giving birth has risen from 27 to 30 in two decades.

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