Most Important Ovarian Cancer Risk Factors
Smoking: Cigarette smoking is tied to a number of different cancers, including certain types of ovarian cancer. Although there’s not much evidence to suggest that smoking will increase your risk of ovarian cancer overall, it does make you more likely to develop the mucinous type.
Obesity: Being extremely overweight in early adulthood could increase your ovarian cancer risk by 50 percent, and obese women are also more likely to die from the disease. Carrying a bit of extra weight may not make much of an impact, but if your BMI is 30 or above, you could be in trouble.
Reducing Your Risk
You can’t change your age or your genes, but you can give your body some advantage when it comes to cancer prevention. Several factors affect your ovarian cancer risk, but there are several ways to tip the balance more in your favor.
Start a Family Sooner
Studies reveal that becoming pregnant in your 20s is better for your ovarian health than having children later on. Women who carry a pregnancy to term before the age of 26 will decrease their ovarian cancer risk significantly, and that risk goes down with each successive pregnancy.
When you do have children, you can reduce your ovarian cancer risk even further by breastfeeding instead of formula feeding.
Consider Tubal Ligation
Motherhood might be healthy for your ovaries, but it’s not the only way to keep your cancer risk in check. If you don’t intend to have children (or any more children), you might want to set that in stone with surgery.
Having your tubes tied (technically known as a tubal ligation) could reduce your risk of developing ovarian cancer by more than 65 percent. Also, women who have had a hysterectomy (removal of the uterus, but not the ovaries) are about one-third less likely to develop ovarian cancer than the average woman.
Give up Bad Habits for Good
Now is the time to quit smoking and improve your diet. If you smoke, set a quit date and talk to your doctor about ways to improve your chances of success. As for diet, the low-fat route may be the most beneficial when it comes to cancer risk.
One study reported that women who followed a low-fat diet for four years lowered their ovarian cancer risk. While there’s no hard evidence for or against certain foods when it comes to preventing ovarian cancer in particular, a diet based on a variety of whole, mostly plant-based foods is known to defend against cancer in general.
Choose a Better Form of Birth Control
IUDs take the work out of birth control, but oral contraceptives are a much better option if you’re worried about your cancer risk.
Taking the birth control pill for as little as three months may be all you need to enjoy a lower ovarian cancer risk, but taking the pill for three years or more can reduce your risk by up to 50 percent. The injectable contraceptive known as Depo-Provera can also lower your ovarian cancer risk.
Think About Genetic Testing
If breast cancer or ovarian cancer runs in your family, you may want to investigate whether or not you have any problematic gene mutations.
Doctors can use non-invasive tests to analyze your genetic structure.
Knowing your genetic predisposition can help prevent and treat the cancer early, but genetic testing isn’t a perfect solution. There is the possibility for false positives, and your results could lead you to a major, irreversible decision.
If you or your doctor suspect a genetic connection, you’ll want to meet with a genetic counselor to weigh the pros and cons before deciding on any tests.
Frequent examinations are an alternative (or supplement) to genetic testing among high-risk women. Your doctor can use pelvic imaging and blood tests to screen for cancer at regular intervals.
When cancer risk is very high and you don’t intend to have children, removal of the ovaries and fallopian tubes may be the best preventative measure.