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Lowering Your Risk for Ovarian Cancer

Doctor Q&A

OB/GYN, certified by MD Anderson Cancer Network®

Ovarian cancer claims around 14,000 lives per year, with most cases occurring in women 45 and older. This is largely due to many cases being discovered in a late stage. Regular pelvic exams beginning at age 21 can sometimes help physicians discover ovarian cancer earlier and may increase the rate of survival.

Because ovarian cancer can go undetected in its early stages, it’s important for women to understand their individual risk factors and to take steps to reduce their risk for developing ovarian cancer.

What are the risk factors for ovarian cancer?

In addition to lifestyle-related risk factors like excess body weight, smoking and lack of exercise, there are a few major risk factors that contribute to the development of ovarian cancers.

Family history. Women with a first- or second-degree relative who has been diagnosed with ovarian cancer have an increased risk for contracting the disease. Women who have a family history of breast cancer will also have an increased risk for ovarian cancer.

Genetic predisposition. Approximately 20% of ovarian cancers are due to inherited genetic mutations that increase a woman’s risk. The majority of these are from BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 mutations. There are some other less common mutations as well as Lynch syndrome, which is a familial syndrome commonly associated with colon and uterine cancer, that elevate the risk.

Personal medical history. Personal history of breast cancer, infertility and endometriosis may elevate a woman’s risk of developing ovarian cancer.

Menopausal hormone replacement therapy. Women going through menopause may choose to use hormone replacement therapy to relieve common symptoms of menopause and address long-term changes that come with a decrease in estrogen and progesterone. However, women who use this therapy have a 20% higher risk of developing ovarian cancer than women who do not.

What are the best ways to reduce your risk of ovarian cancer?

There are several types of ovarian cancers—most preventive strategies focus on the most common type, which is called epithelial ovarian cancer. While you can’t change your genetic risk, you can avoid other lifestyle-related risk factors. If you’re concerned about developing ovarian cancer, a conversation with your doctor is the best place to start. The following list is a general overview of steps we recommend to reduce your risk of ovarian cancer.

  • Learn your family history
  • Consider genetic counseling/testing if you have family history of breast/ovarian cancer
  • Maintain a healthy body weight
  • Maintain an active lifestyle
  • Don't smoke
  • Educate yourself about the risks/benefits of hormone replacement therapy and discuss these with your physician
  • Consider oral contraception in the premenopausal years as this can cause a reduction in risk

Should you or a loved one be diagnosed with ovarian cancer, The Cancer Center at AdventHealth Shawnee Mission has one of the largest and most experienced treatment facilities in the area. With four board-certified gynecologic oncologists in addition to a full staff of medical and radiation oncologists, AdventHealth is able to provide the full range of cancer and preventive care. As Kansas City's only affiliate of MD Anderson Cancer Center Network®, a program of MD Anderson Cancer Center, AdventHealth is raising the standard of cancer care, providing therapies, technology and clinical expertise aligned with MD Anderson's evidence-based treatment guidelines. For more information about AdventHealth Cancer Center Shawnee Mission, visit AHigherStandard.com.