Psychotropic medication use and risk of epithelial ovarian cancer

Bernard L. Harlow, Daniel W. Cramer, John A. Baron, Linda Titus-Ernstoff, E. Robert Greenberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


Long-term use of psychotropic medication may increase the risk for epithelial ovarian cancer through increased gonadotropin secretion or direct ovarian stimulation of adrenergic receptors, effects which may affect ovarian cancer pathogenesis. An earlier case-control study found that prior use of antidepressants or benzodiazepine tranquilizers was associated with a 2-fold increase in risk of epithelial ovarian cancer. However, that study lacked details on all types of psychotropic medications, length of use, and the categorization of the specific action of these medications on the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian axis. In a new case-control study conducted in eastern Massachusetts (MA) and all of New Hampshire (NH), we identified all women with newly diagnosed ovarian cancer between May 1992 and March 1997. We interviewed 563 women diagnosed with malignant or borderline epithelial ovarian tumors and 523 controls identified through random digit dialing and the use of Town Books (residential listings by name, age, and precinct). Participants were asked to provide the name of medications used for 6 months or longer, the age at first use, and total months or years of use. Psychotropic medications included amphetamines, sedatives, barbiturates/anticonvulsants, antidepressants, and antipsychotics. Self- reported use of psychotropic medication for 6 months or longer was associated with a statistically significant increase in risk of invasive ovarian cancer [odds ratio (OR), 1.6; 95% confidence interval (CI), 1.1-2.3]. Relative to nonusers, risk was greatest in those whose first use occurred premenopausally for more than 2 years (OR, 2.9; CI, 1.3-6.6). The association was largely confined to use of medications that operate through dopaminergic mechanisms (OR, 2.9; CI, 1.3-6.4) or gabaergic pathways (OR, 1.5; CI, 0.9-2.5) as opposed to serotoninergic pathways (OR, 1.0; CI, 0.4-2.1). These results are consistent with the hypothesis that psychotropic medications induce gonadotropin secretion, which in turn may increase ovarian cancer risk. However, until other studies confirm our findings and determine whether they apply to medications with specific neuroendocrine actions, it is premature to advise a change in clinical practice and conclude that these medications indeed play a role in the etiology of ovarian cancer.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)697-702
Number of pages6
JournalCancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1998


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