Ovarian Cancer Risk Factors and Prevention
A cancer risk factor is anything that increases your chance of developing a disease like ovarian cancer. But the presence of risk factors does not guarantee that you’ll develop cancer – ovarian or any other type – during your lifetime. For instance, some women who are diagnosed with ovarian cancer have no known risk factors, while others who do have high-risk factors won’t get ovarian cancer at all. With that said, it is important to be aware of the factors that could increase your risk of ovarian cancer and what you can do to help lower your risks.
Ovarian Cancer Risk Factors
There are a variety of factors that can increase your risk of ovarian cancer. Most of these risk factors can’t be controlled; however, those factors that involve personal lifestyle choices can be changed.
Common risk factors for ovarian cancer can include:
- Age. It is very rare in women under the age of 40. Most ovarian cancers develop after menopause.
- Birth control. Using oral contraceptives or birth control pills for a minimum of 3 to 6 months can lower the risk of ovarian cancer. The risk continues to lower the longer the pills are used. With that said, the use of oral contraceptives can increase your risk for some other health issues, including cervical and breast cancer.
- Family history. About 5 to 10% of ovarian cancers are a part of family cancer syndromes, women who have a first-degree relative (such as a grandmother, mother, daughter, or sister) with ovarian cancer are at an increased risk because of inherited genetic mutations. Abnormalities in certain genes, specifically BRCA1 or BRCA2, or one associated with Lynch syndrome, can increase the risk of ovarian cancer.
- Hormone replacement therapy. Recent studies suggest that women who use estrogens after menopause are at an increased risk for ovarian cancer.
- Obesity. Studies show that obese women have a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer.
- Reproductive history. Women who had full-term pregnancies, before the age of 26, are at a lower risk than women who had their first full-term pregnancy after age 35. Women who have never carried a pregnancy to term area also at a higher risk. Each full-term pregnancy lowers your risk. Breastfeeding may also lower the risk as well.
- Smoking. While smoking doesn’t increase the risk for all types of ovarian cancer, it has been linked to an increased risk for the mucinous type that is present in ovarian cancer.
Reducing Your Risks of Developing Ovarian Cancer
While there is no guarantee that any woman won’t get ovarian cancer, there are steps that can be taken to help reduce any risk factors that can be avoided.
Different prevention methods may include:
- Changing lifestyle or eating habits to choose healthier choices
- Avoiding things known to cause cancer, like smoking and talcum powder
- Getting pregnant and breastfeeding after giving birth
- Taking oral contraceptives
- Undergoing genetic testing if any of your first-degree relatives (grandmother, mother, daughter; sister) have been diagnosed with ovarian or breast cancer
- Having gynecological surgery such as tubal ligation or hysterectomy
Keep in mind that genetic testing and preventive gynecological surgery (called prophylactic BSO) are only recommended for patients who have a strong family history of ovarian or breast cancer. The decision to undergo either comes down to a personal choice only you can make. If you are in the Portland, OR or Vancouver, WA areas, you can contact Compass Oncology to set-up a personalized genetic risk evaluation. Genetic counselors are also available to help answer any questions you have and determine if you would be a good candidate for genetic testing or surgery.