Risk Factors and Preventing Ovarian Cancer

While middle age is a risk factor for ovarian cancer—it generally strikes women over 40, especially women after 60—age is not the only risk factor. The following factors may increase your risk for ovarian cancer:

  • A genetic mutation in BRCA1 or BRCA2 or other genes known to cause cancer
  • Close family members who have ovarian cancer
  • Eastern European (Ashkenazi) Jewish background
  • Endometriosis, a condition in the uterine lining (endometrium) that grows elsewhere in the body, often causing pain 
  • No births or trouble getting pregnant
  • Other cancers such as breast, uterine, or colorectal or colon cancer

Genetic Risks of Ovarian Cancer

Many people who are genetically predisposed to ovarian cancer do not have a family history of ovarian or other cancers. All women with epithelial ovarian cancer should see a genetic counselor and be offered genetic testing.

To know for sure if you may have inherited the gene for ovarian cancer, you can have genetic testing as described by the American Cancer Society. Genetic testing involves your providing some background information about your own medical history and your family’s medical history. You will also have a blood test and possibly provide some spit for testing. Your doctor and a genetic counselor will help you interpret what your genetic test results mean for you.

Genetic testing can let you know if you carry the following genetic mutations:

  • BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes increase your risk of breast and ovarian cancers.
  • Lynch syndrome genes increase your chances of developing uterine and ovarian cancer.
  • We are always discovering new genes related ovarian cancer, and our testing will cover these other genes as well.

If based on your family history and genetic test results, you discover that you are at risk; you have options for preventing ovarian cancer.

Preventing Ovarian Cancer

What you know can help you make decisions to get life-saving treatment. Start with regular visits to your gynecologist. Consider having genetic counseling and testing for hereditary risk factors.

Screening for ovarian cancer is offered to women at increased genetic risk for ovarian cancer, but is not appropriate for most women. If you have a genetic mutation, your doctor may suggest that you are screened for ovarian cancer. If all the pieces add up, you will want to see a gynecologic oncologist for a personalized treatment plan to address a precancerous condition or to treat the ovarian cancer. Ways to help prevent ovarian cancer include staying healthy, according to the American Cancer Society. Other preventative measures may include:

  • Giving birth
  • Having the fallopian tubes tied or removed (tubal ligation)
  • Surgery to remove both ovaries (oophorectomy)
  • Surgery to remove the uterus and other effected organs (hysterectomy)
  • Using birth control pills for more than five years

Preventive surgery requires removal of both ovaries and fallopian tubes. This procedure will make younger women menopausal. If you are premenopausal or are concerned about the sudden loss of hormones, ask your doctor about hormone therapy following surgery.  Other procedures performed as part of the prevention of ovarian and tubal cancer include removal of the tubes with or without the uterus.