Ovarian cancer is a type of cancer that affects the ovaries. It is not usually noticeable until it has spread to the pelvis and abdomen. Ovarian cancer is the eighth most common cancer in women and fifth leading cause of death. It is difficult to treat and is fatal, but with early detection, ovarian cancer can be treated successfully. There is no specific cause for ovarian cancer. Like any other cancer, it is believed to occur due to mutations in the DNA of the ovarian cells.
Risk factors for ovarian cancer
The following factors may increase the risk of developing ovarian cancer.
Women of all ages have the risk of getting ovarian cancer. But, as a woman’s age increases the risk of developing cancer also increases. About 68% of women with ovarian cancer are older than 55 years, and 32% are younger than 55.
Women who have a family history of ovarian cancer are at an increased risk of developing the disease. About 10% of cancer cases are associated with family history.
About 10% to 15% of ovarian cancers occur because of a gene mutation that has been passed down within the family. BRCA 1 and BRCA2 are the two genes that help to repair the damage caused to DNA. Mutations in these genes lead to ovarian cancer. Though mutations in these genes are usually associated with breast cancer, they carry a notable lifetime risk of ovarian cancer.
Studies have proved that obese women are at a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer.
There are several genetic conditions linked to increasing the risk of ovarian cancer. They include:
- Hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer (HNPCC) is a condition caused by inherited genes and is also known as Lynch syndrome. Women with HNPCC have a slight risk of developing ovarian cancer. Usually, it is developed in young women with a strong family history. This condition may sometimes lead to colon and endometrial cancer.
- Peutz-Jeghers syndrome (PJS) is caused by a specific genetic mutation and is also associated with the multiple polyps in the digestive tract. It increases the risk of ovarian cancer.
- Nevoid basal cell carcinoma syndrome (NBCCS) is commonly known as Gorlin syndrome. Women with this syndrome have an increased risk of developing fibromas which are benign tumors of the ovaries.
- Li-Fraumeni syndrome and ataxia-telangiectasia may also increase the risk of developing ovarian cancer in women.
Endometriosis is a condition in which the inner lining of the woman’s uterus grows outside the uterus, affecting other nearby organs, causing several problems. It is one of the risk factors for ovarian cancer, such as clear cell and endometrioid ovarian cancers.
Late menopause/Early menstruation
Women whose menstruation cycle starts before the age of 12 or those who do not reach menopause until after the age of 50 are at a risk of developing ovarian cancer.
History of breast or colon cancer
Women who have a history of breast or colon cancer are at risk for ovarian cancer.
Conceiving the first child after age 30 or never having a child can increase the risk of developing ovarian cancer.
Prevention of ovarian cancer
There is no sure-fire method for preventing ovarian cancer. Some approaches can reduce the risk of developing ovarian cancer. They include:
- Oral contraceptives: Women who use oral contraceptives for several years have a low risk of developing ovarian cancer. If women use contraceptives for more than five years, they have about 50% lower risk of developing ovarian cancer compared to the other women who never used oral contraceptives.
- Gynecologic surgery: If you have undergone tubal ligation and hysterectomy, then you may have a reduced chance of developing ovarian cancer. But experts agree that these operations should be done for a valid medical reason.
- Pregnancy and childbirth: More the number of births a woman gives less is her chance of developing ovarian cancer. There is a less chance of developing ovarian cancer for the women who give a higher number of births. Breastfeeding for more duration may also reduce the risk of ovarian cancer.
- Removal of ovaries (Oophorectomy): Surgical removal of ovaries significantly reduces the risk of developing ovarian cancer. This procedure is mainly recommended for women who are at a higher risk of developing the disease.
- A healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight throughout your life also reduces the risk of developing ovarian cancer.
Ovarian cancer can be treated if it is detected at an early stage. If you have any of the related risk factors which are mentioned above, then immediately seek your doctor’s help. Follow preventive steps and reduce your risk of getting ovarian cancer.