Ovarian cancer

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Reducing your risk for ovarian cancer

You may lower your risk of developing ovarian cancer by doing the following.

Talk to your doctor about hormone replacement therapy

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) has both benefits and risks. Studies show that HRT that uses estrogen alone increases the risk of ovarian cancer. Talk to your doctor about the benefits and risks of taking HRT.

Be a non-smoker

Smoking increases the risk of some types of ovarian cancer. If you smoke, get help to quit.

Avoid asbestos exposure

Occupational exposure to asbestos increases the risk of developing ovarian cancer. People who work around asbestos should always take proper safety precautions to limit their exposure.

Maintain a healthy body weight

Some studies show that being obese may increase your risk of developing ovarian cancer. You may lower your risk by having a healthy body weight. Eating well and being physically active can help you have a healthy body weight.

Learn about protective factors

Some drugs and lifestyle choices may help to protect you from developing ovarian cancer.

Oral contraceptives

Research shows that oral contraceptives (birth control pills) lower the risk for all types of ovarian cancer. The risk is lower after using oral contraceptives for only a few months, but using them more than 5 years provides the greatest risk reduction. This protection lasts at least 20 years after you stop taking oral contraceptives.

Research suggests that oral contraceptives may also lower the risk for women who have a higher than average risk of developing ovarian cancer, including women who have never been pregnant or women who have BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations.

Pregnancy

Having been pregnant lowers the risk of developing ovarian cancer. The more times you’ve been pregnant, the greater the protective effect. But pregnancy does not appear to have a protective effect for women who have a strong family history of ovarian cancer or a BRCA gene mutation.

Gynecological surgery

Tubal ligation is surgery that cuts or blocks the fallopian tubes. Having this surgery lowers a woman’s lifetime risk of developing ovarian cancer.

A hysterectomy is surgery to remove the uterus. It may also lower the risk of developing ovarian cancer, but not as well as tubal ligation. Hysterectomy seems to lower the risk when the fallopian tubes and ovaries are also removed (called salpingo-oophorectomy).

Breastfeeding

Some studies suggest that breastfeeding slightly lowers the risk of developing ovarian cancer.

Find out if you’re at high risk for ovarian cancer

Some women can have a higher than average risk for ovarian cancer. Talk to your doctor about your risk. If you are at higher than average risk, you may need a personal plan for testing.

A risk reduction bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy (RRSO) or prophylactic salpingo-oophorectomy may be an option for women who have a very high risk of developing ovarian cancer, including those with a BRCA gene mutation or a family history of ovarian cancer in 2 or more relatives. This surgery removes the ovaries and fallopian tubes. The surgeon may also remove the uterus during this surgery. Women who have a RRSO will experience treatment-induced menopause and can no longer have children. For this reason, this surgery is offered to women between the ages of 35 and 40 or to women who no longer want to have children.

At present, RRSO is the best preventive strategy to lower the risk for ovarian cancer in women with BRCA mutations. It reduces the risk of ovarian cancer by up to 90% in high-risk women. Talk to your doctor about the benefits and risks of RRSO.

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