Common ginger may be the next weapon in the battle against ovarian cancer, scientists have suggested. Laboratory studies have shown that powdered root ginger could be as effective as chemotherapy for treating ovarian cancer.

The ovaries are a woman's reproductive organs which produce steroid hormones as well as eggs, called ova. Ovarian cancer usually occurs after menopause. In fact, 50% of ovarian tumors occur in women aged 40 to 60 and 40% over age 60. Like other cancers, ovarian cancer is a disease of body cells. Cancerous tumors in the ovaries can not only invade and destroy surrounding normal tissues, their cells can metastasize, which means they break away and spread to other parts of the body. Generally, it will involve the abdominal cavity. Women who have never had children are twice as likely to develop this cancer as those who have given birth. There are usually no obvious symptoms of ovarian cancer until late in its development. If there is a symptom of ovarian cancer present, it will most likely be an enlarged abdomen caused by the accumulation of fluid, according to
When research-grade ginger - which is free of additives - was applied to ovarian cancer cells in Petri dishes it proved to be as effective as platinum-based chemotherapies for stopping cell growth.

The US scientists behind the research are particularly excited because ginger seems to offer a two-pronged attack on cancer cells: it makes them commit suicide, known as apoptosis, and self-digest, known as autophagy. It offers the hope that when one form of attack starts to fail the other will kick in.

"Most ovarian cancer patients develop recurrent disease that eventually becomes resistant to standard chemotherapy - which is associated with resistance to apoptosis," said Rebecca Liu, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of Michigan medical school, where the research was carried out. "If ginger can cause autophagic cell death in addition to apoptosis, it may circumvent resistance to conventional chemotherapy." The scientists stressed these were preliminary findings.

Ginger is known to ease nausea, and it is being investigated for use to lessen the side-effects of chemotherapy and prevent bowel cancer. But the research into its use to treat ovarian cancer is at an early stage, the Guardian reports.

Henry Scowcroft of Cancer Research UK has called for a cautionary approach to the findings.

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