It’s the frustration of a disease that has no good screening test, and no good way to prevent it. But now, this new research in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology says the active ingredient in Tylenol, acetaminophen might help prevent ovarian cancer.
The researchers found that regular use of acetaminophen was associated with a 30 percent reduction in risk. “It’s a good study in that it’s able to utilize the data from several different studies,” states Dr. Mary Fatehi, a GYN oncologist at Long Island College Hospital. Now what regular use means is a bit vague, but in most of the studies, taking one or two Tylenol per day would suffice. And how it works is also unclear.
Tylenol might work by causing the atrophy, or wasting, of ovarian tissue that would turn cancerous. “It also has been show to decrease the glutathione, which is a type of protein within cells, decrease those levels and the reason that’s important is glutathione is necessary for ovulation. So the action maybe that it just simply inhibits ovulation,” Dr. Fatehi says.
Now, this isn’t a slam-dunk, why not do it kind of thing. Long-term acetaminophen use may raise the risk of liver and kidney problems, and so may not be worth it in low risk populations. Dr Fatehi reiterates, “So while I think the data from this article is promising. What I really need is something that’s more concrete, does this help or doesn’t it, should I be prescribing it to my patients.” And that would mean a forward looking study at women--some who take it every day, some who don’t.
But maybe this very difficult problem can be at least in part tackled with a very easy answer. “With the exception of the news that came out in December about intraperitoneal chemotherapy, this is the most recent thing that came out and it is better because it is preventative, and the thought that it could reduce someone odds who might have a genetic predisposition by thirty percent it is huge it is just wonderful,” exclaims Irene.
And the authors caution the new findings need to be confirmed and much more information should be gathered first before taking a Tylenol or two a day is recommended as a public health effort to prevent ovarian cancer. The fact is, though, ovarian cancer remains the most fatal gynecological malignancy. While it’s relatively uncommon--affecting around one in sixty women--the high mortality rate makes it a major health concern.