UH Cancer Center study investigates racial/ethnic differences in ovarian cancer risk

August 11, 2020

A study led by University of Hawaiʻi Cancer Center postdoctoral researcher, Danja Sarink, Ph.D., investigates racial/ethnic differences in risk and risk factors for epithelial ovarian cancer. The study was published in the American Association for Cancer Research journal, Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention .

Using data from the Multiethnic Cohort Study, an epidemiological study which follows over 215,000 individuals in Hawaiʻi and Los Angeles for the development of cancer and other chronic diseases, Sarink and collaborators were able to better understand risk factors for ovarian cancer in Whites, African Americans, Native Hawaiians, Japanese Americans and Latinas. “As there are currently no early detection strategies for ovarian cancer, better understanding the role of potentially modifiable risk factors, especially among understudied groups including Native Hawaiians, Japanese Americans and Latinas, could help inform prevention strategies,” said Sarink.

Ovarian cancer is a rare but aggressive disease, and is often diagnosed at late stages. Previous studies have shown that ovarian cancer incidence differs between various racial/ethnic groups, but little is known about the differences in risk factors for these populations.

Study findings show that compared to White women, Native Hawaiian women had a 36 percent higher risk for ovarian cancer, while risk was lower in Japanese Americans by 21 percent and 26 percent in Latinas. Risk in African Americans was similar to that in Whites.

Although these differences in risk across racial/ethnic groups were not fully explained by known ovarian cancer risk factors, investigators were able to identify differences in the impact of individual risk factors. Women who have given birth or have used oral contraceptives are at a lower risk for ovarian cancer. These associations were particularly strong for Japanese Americans. “Interestingly, Latinas who reported a later age at natural menopause or postmenopausal hormone therapy use had a higher risk of ovarian cancer. This is something we are hoping to look into further,” said Sarink.