Ovarian Cancer - Understanding the Risk Factors

No one wants to develop ovarian cancer - or any cancer for that matter.  While we can't always prevent these health issues, it is helpful to know the risk factors for ovarian cancer, and to take whatever measures you can to prevent its occurrence.  There are certain risk factors that may make some women more likely to develop ovarian cancer than others.

Family History of Cancer

Women who have a family history of cancer have an increased risk for the disease themselves.  This would include a mother, daughter or sister who has had ovarian cancer.  Women who have a family history with other types of cancer, including breast cancer, uterus cancer, colon cancer and rectum cancer, may also have an increased risk for developing ovarian cancer.  If you have a strong family history of cancers, meaning that several women in your family have had ovarian or breast cancer at a young age, you may decide to talk to a genetic counselor.  Sometimes, genetic tests can indicate a presence of specific gene changes that can indicate cancer.  You may also decide to take proactive methods to prevent ovarian cancer.

Personal History of Cancer and Age

If you've had another type of cancer already, such as breast, uterus or colon cancer, you will have a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer as well.  Similarly, the older that you get, the higher your risk is for ovarian cancer.  Most women who are diagnosed with ovarian cancer are over the age of 55.  Approximately 50% of ovarian cancer cases occur in women who are over 63 years of age.  

Reproductive Issues

Interestingly enough, if you've never been pregnant, you have an increased risk for developing ovarian cancer as you age.  It appears that the number of menstrual periods throughout a woman's life correlate with the risk of developing ovarian cancer.  Studies have shown that women who started menstruating early (before age 12), who had no children or had their first child after the age of 30, and/or went through menopause after the age of 50 had a greater chance of developing ovarian cancer than did the regular population. If you use menopausal hormone therapy, you may increase your risk.  Studies have suggested that women who take estrogen without progesterone for over ten years have an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer.  In contrast, birth control pills seem to decrease a woman's chances of getting the disease.

Body Weight

The American Cancer Society has shown that women who are obese seem to have a higher rate of death from ovarian cancer than do those who are normal weight.  This is another reason to try to eat well, exercise and stay within the normal weight range.

The lifetime risk for developing ovarian cancer is known to be less than 2% for the regular population.  These risk factors do not guarantee that you will get ovarian cancer; they simply make it slightly more likely and make you more aware of the risks. If you have many of these risk factors and are very worried about the disease, be sure to speak to your doctor about genetic testing and other measures that they can take that might be appropriate for your situation.

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