A risk factor is anything that increases your chance of developing a disease like cancer. Having risk factors for ovarian cancer doesn’t mean you will definitely develop it. However, it’s important to be aware of your risk factors. The more you know, the better equipped you’ll be to make lifestyle choices that can help lower your chance of getting it.
Risk Factors for Ovarian Cancer
There are several factors that can increase your risk of developing ovarian cancer. While many of these, like age and genetics, are out of your control, others that involve personal lifestyle choices can be adjusted to lower risk.
Common risk factors for ovarian cancer include:
- Age. Ovarian cancer is very rare in women under the age of 40. Most ovarian cancers develop after menopause.
- Family history. About 5-10% of ovarian cancers are hereditary through a mutation in the BRCA gene. Women who have a first-degree relative (such as a grandmother, mother, daughter, or sister) with ovarian cancer or breast cancer may be at an increased risk. Finding out if there is a BRCA gene mutation in your family is a good place to start. Our genetic counselors can assist you with this.
- Reproductive history. Women who had full-term pregnancies, before the age of 26, are at a lower risk than women who had their first full-term pregnancy after age 35. Women who have never carried a pregnancy to term are also at a higher risk. Each full-term pregnancy lowers your risk. Breastfeeding may lower the risk as well.
- Birth control. The risk for ovarian cancer can be lowered by using oral contraceptives (birth control pills) for a minimum of 3 to 6 months. The risk continues to drop the longer the pills are used. With that said, the use of oral contraceptives can increase your risk for some other health issues, including cervical and breast cancers.
- Obesity. Studies show that the risk of developing ovarian cancer is higher in women who are obese.
- Hormone replacement therapy. Recent studies suggest an increased risk of ovarian cancer in women who use estrogen hormone replacement after menopause.
Reducing Your Risks of Developing Ovarian Cancer
While, there is no guarantee that you won’t get ovarian cancer by taking steps to reduce your risk, there are things you can do to lower your risk including:
- Avoiding things that are known to cause cancer. Talcum powder shoes evidence of leading to ovarian cancer as does smoking.
- Making better lifestyle choices in regards to diet and exercise
- Using birth control pills
- Breastfeeding, if you are still in the childbearing stage of life
- Having gynecological surgery such as tubal ligation or hysterectomy. This is not a common recommendation unless you have the BRCA gene mutation. Then you should discuss this as a preventative option with your gynecologist.