Ovarian Cancer Risk Overview

Cancer certainly can't always be prevented. It is important to understand, however, who is at risk for certain cancers and how you might try to diminish your odds of having ovarian cancer. The more aware that you are of your odds of having ovarian cancer, the more careful you can be with check-ups and with your health.

Family History

As with any situation, you're more likely to develop ovarian cancer if you have a family history of the disease. Family history includes having a mother, daughter or sister with ovarian cancer. If you have a family history of other types of female cancers, including breast cancer, uterine cancer, colon cancers and others, then you also may have an increased risk for ovarian cancer.

If you find that there are many people in your family who have had these cancers, you may want to meet with a genetic counselor. There are times when genetic tests can show a presence of specific gene changes in your body that could indicate cancer.

Age as a Factor

The older that you get, the more risk you'll have for ovarian cancer. Most women who are diagnosed with this cancer are over 55. About 50% of the ovarian cancer cases that occur involve women who are 63 years old or older.

Keep Your Weight Down

Obese women have a higher rate of death from ovarian cancer than do women who are at a normal weight. This should be a good motivator to try to eat right and exercise regularly. Keeping your weight at a normal range can help to decrease your chances of developing ovarian cancer.

Reproductive History

The more menstrual cycles that you experienced over your lifetime actually increase your risk of developing the disease. Studies have indicated that women who started to menstruate early (before they were 12), those who had no children, those who had a first child after the age of 30, and those who went through menopause after 50 all had a greater chance of developing ovarian cancer. Studies have also shown that increased levels of estrogen over a long period of time can increase your risk.

So, for instance, if you took estrogen without progesterone over a ten year period as part of menopausal hormone therapy, you have an increased risk. Interestingly enough, if you've taken birth control pills over an extended period, you have a decreased risk.

Fortunately, the lifetime risk for developing ovarian cancer is quite low, and stays at about 2%. This risk factors certainly don't guarantee that you'll develop the disease, but they are important to know about, as they increase your risk. If you are worried about your risk, speak to your doctor about genetic testing and about lifestyle changes that can help to decrease your risk of experiencing this type of cancer.

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