Ovarian cancer accounts for more deaths than any other cancer related to the female reproductive system. While rates have been declining over recent decades, understanding the risk factors for this disease is an important part of taking a proactive approach. Although some risk factors (like age or genetic proclivity) can’t be controlled, there are lifestyle adjustments you can make to reduce your chances of this and other cancers. Here’s what you should know.
What Are the Risk Factors for Ovarian Cancer?
Certain genetic factors can increase your risk of ovarian cancer, including a family history of ovarian, breast, or colorectal cancer. Having the BRCA1 or BRCA2 inherited genetic mutations also increases your risk, as does having a family cancer condition, such as Lynch syndrome. But a genetic predisposition doesn’t mean you’ll get ovarian cancer, as only 5 to 15% of ovarian cancers are attributed to inherited genes.
As with many types of cancer, the risk of ovarian cancer also increases with age. Most cases are diagnosed after the age of 45 — and most especially after 75. Having a personal history of breast, uterine, or colorectal cancer, having never given birth or having had difficulty getting pregnant, and having endometriosis can also contribute to your risk levels.
Lifestyle factors that can elevate your risk for ovarian cancer include being obese or overweight, using hormone replacement therapy, and smoking.
How Can You Reduce Your Risk of Ovarian Cancer?
Smoking is linked to a higher likelihood of mucinous ovarian cancer, a rare subtype characterized by large, fluid-filled cells. Since smoking is also linked to at least 10 other types of cancer, it’s worth quitting if you’re currently smoking, or continuing to avoid it if you’re not.
Consider birth control.
Taking birth control has been associated with a 30 to 50% lower risk of ovarian cancer. The longer you take oral contraceptives, the more you may be protected from ovarian cancer, and the effect can last for up to 30 years after you stop. This approach may be particularly helpful for women with a known BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation.
Maintain a healthy weight.
Being overweight or obese increases the risk of ovarian cancer as well as several other types. Eating a nutrient-rich diet and exercising regularly are two steps you can take to maintain a healthy weight and reduce your cancer risk.
Women who have had children may choose to breastfeed for a number of reasons, one of which is reduced cancer risk. The hormonal changes that occur during lactation reduce your lifetime exposure to estrogen, which can promote the cell growth of cancers that occur in women.
Talk to your gynecologist.
Surgical procedures like the removal of your ovaries or fallopian tubes or a tubal ligation could reduce the risk of ovarian cancer, but as with any surgery, their risks and benefits should be weighed carefully. And neither offers complete protection, because there’s still a small chance cancer can occur afterwards. If you have a known risk factor such as Lynch syndrome or genetic mutations, surgery isn’t the only way to take a preventive approach against ovarian cancer. Periodic screenings such as transvaginal ultrasonography or endometrial biopsies may be also recommended, for example.
Meeting with your gynecologist regularly can help both of you continue to monitor symptoms and talk together about any steps that will be best for your health concerns and goals. Our providers are here to guide you in making informed decisions that prioritize your entire wellness — including cancer prevention. For a compassionate, patient-centered approach to care, book an appointment online or call us directly at 770-487-9604.