22,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year in the United States. We fundraise to support the research efforts working on a cure, and we mourn the 14,000 women who are killed by this disease annually. (1, 2) Ovarian cancer is the most deadly of all gynecologic cancers and is ranked fifth in overall cancer deaths amongst women. It’s time to learn the facts about ovarian cancer so that you can know your risk and potentially reduce it.
Ovarian Cancer Risk Factors
1 in 75 women will develop ovarian cancer at some point in their lifetime. As a woman approaches fifty and finds herself at the tail end of menopause, her risk of ovarian cancer will be greater than that of her thirty-year-old counterpart. Over 50% of women diagnosed are above the age of sixty. (2, 3)
Another important risk factor to consider is a woman’s personal and family medical history. Women with any past diagnosis of breast or cervical cancer have a higher chance of developing ovarian cancer. Similarly, a woman whose family has past experience with breast or ovarian cancer will have a greater risk factor themselves. For these women with a higher risk, doctors will generally recommend genetic testing to identify the presence of the genetic mutations BRCA1 and BRCA2. Most commonly associated with breast cancer, these mutations also indicate a greater chance of ovarian cancer.
How To Lower Your Risk of Ovarian Cancer
Obviously, a woman can’t change her age or her medical history, but there are some lifestyle choices and preventative measures that a woman can take to reduce her risk for ovarian cancer development. Multiple studies looking at different themes of this disease have found one common prevention method; a woman can lower her risk by reducing or regulating her ovulation cycle and preventing unusual activity in the ovaries. So how does one go about this?
- Pregnancy – When a woman is pregnant, she stops ovulating temporarily for that nine-month period. Women who have given birth often have lower chances of developing ovarian cancer because of this.
- Breastfeeding – Breastfeeding lowers a woman’s estrogen level; this will, in turn, decrease her ovulation.
- Oral Contraceptives – Women on “the pill” often see a lowered risk for ovarian cancer as it regulates their ovulation cycle. Studies have shown that women who take oral contraceptives for five or more years will lower their risk by upwards of 50%. However, there are many other harmful side-effects of oral contraceptives so this warrants a discussion with a practitioner to see if it is necessary.
- Gynecologic Surgery – A hysterectomy will also affect a woman’s ovulation cycle. While a hysterectomy does not remove the ovaries, ovulation will decrease and potentially stop within the first year following the surgery. According to the CDC, some women with a high ovarian cancer risk may also consider tubal ligation or removing their ovaries entirely, but it is an incredibly important decision that should be discussed thoroughly with your gynecologist or a gynecologic oncologist. (4)
Beyond reducing ovulation, there are a couple other factors to reduce your risk.
- Maintaining a healthy weight – Obese women with a BMI greater than 30 are more susceptible to developing ovarian cancer. Obesity also takes a toll on your body and its overall effectiveness, so when an obese woman is diagnosed, she and her body will have a tougher time fighting the cancer and other illnesses that often afflict chemotherapy patients.
- A healthy diet full of rich nutrients – include foods high in omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins A, D, and E along with a regular exercise program can be life-saving.
- Natural products –Recently, ovarian cancer has caught the news media’s attention with a major court verdict linking talc-based baby powders near a woman’s genitals and the development of ovarian cancer. Scientific studies dating back to the 1970s found a link between two when talc particles were found in biopsied tumors. While the exact relationship between talcum powder and ovarian cancer is still uncertain, both scientists and multiple juries agree that it best to avoid using talcum powder around your vagina until proven innocent. Luckily for consumers today, we have many other talc-free options on the market.
With odds around 1 in 75, it’s important for women to understand these risks and take be proactive against ovarian cancer. Women need to take action for their ovaries. Talk to your gynecologist about the information that you’ve learned today, and make sure that you are doing everything you can to lower your chances. And please, share this information with the women in your life. Don’t let you or your loved ones become a statistic.
- Cancer Stat Facts: Ovarian Cancer. (n.d.). Retrieved September 13, 2017, from https://seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/ovary.html
- Get the Facts. Recognize the Signs. (n.d.). Retrieved September 13, 2017, from http://www.ovariancancerawareness.org/
- Statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved September 13, 2017, from https://ocrfa.org/patients/about-ovarian-cancer/statistics/
- What Can I Do to Reduce My Risk of Ovarian Cancer? (2017, February 09). Retrieved September 13, 2017, from https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/ovarian/basic_info/prevention.htm
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