Some risk factors are controllable, such as your diet and overall health; other risk factors, such as age and gender, cannot be changed. What are these different factors, and what can you do to lower your risk?
- Age: Ovarian cancer is rare in women under 40, but the risk increases with age. 50% of those who suffer from ovarian cancer develop it after age 63.
- Obesity: Women considered obese (body mass index of 30+) are at higher risk. You can check your BMI here.
- Reproductive history: If you’ve never had a full-term pregnancy, or became pregnant after the age of 35, you’re at higher risk. On the other hand, if you have had a term pregnancy before the age of 26, you are at lower risk. Each full-term pregnancy further reduces your risk. Breastfeeding may lower your risk, as well.
- Birth control: The use of oral contraceptives (birth control pills) for just a few months lowers your risk. Your risk lessens the longer you take birth control pills, even after you stop taking them. Injectable hormonal contraceptive, DMPA or Depo-Provera CI, also lowers your risk.
- Gynecological surgery: Having a tubal ligation (“tubes tied”) or a hysterectomy (removing the uterus, but not the ovaries) may significantly reduce your risk.
- Fertility drugs: Use of the fertility drug Clomid, or clomiphene citrate, for longer than one year may increase your risk, especially if no pregnancy resulted. Fertility drugs seem to increase your risk of developing low malignant potential tumors. Infertility may put women at higher risk even without the use of fertility drugs; this may be associated with no full-term pregnancy (see reproductive history above).
- Hormone therapy: Although more studies are needed, experts believe taking male hormones, known as androgens, may increase your risk of developing ovarian cancer. The use of estrogen after menopause increases your risk. The risk appears higher for those taking only estrogen, not an estrogen/progesterone combination.
- Personal and family history: You have an increased risk if any relatives have had ovarian cancer. A personal or family history of breast or colorectal cancers, which may be caused by inherited mutations in certain genes, may also put you at greater risk.
- Diet: Following a low-fat diet may decrease your risk for ovarian cancer. In general, the American Cancer Society recommends following a diet filled with healthful whole foods, including plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Limiting the amount of red meat and processed foods in your diet is recommended.
- Smoking and alcohol use: Although there isn’t research available to support a link between smoking or alcohol use and ovarian cancer, experts suggest that abstaining from these practices is beneficial to overall health.
First, try to control which factors you can. You might not be able to change your age, but you can manage your weight through changes to your diet and exercise. Make proactive choices regarding your health, such as eating a more well-balanced diet, exercising more, and quitting smoking. This will reduce your risk for several diseases, including ovarian cancer.
It also helps to know your family history, if you don't know it already. If a relative has had a form of cancer, that may mean you are more likely to get it.
Finally, speak with your physician about possible options. If your history indicates you may be at risk for ovarian cancer, he may order tests.
Remember that the earlier cancer is detected, the easier treatment becomes. If you believe you may be at risk for ovarian cancer, make sure to get tested. For more information on ovarian cancer, including its signs and symptoms, please visit the CDC website.
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