Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month: Am I At Risk?

Cancer / Women's Health

Ovarian cancer is a type of cancer that affects the ovaries, which are part of the female reproductive system. It can develop when abnormal cells grow in and around the ovaries and fallopian tubes. 

Anyone who has ovaries can get ovarian cancer, however the chances increase for people over the age of 50. This type of cancer can sometimes be hereditary. 

It's estimated that there are around 4,100 deaths from ovarian cancer in the UK in every year. A rate of one woman every two hours. Because the symptoms are common and misdiagnosed, ovarian cancer is often diagnosed late. The earlier ovarian cancer can be diagnosed, the easier it is to treat.

Am I at risk?

Family history and genetics: If two or more relatives from the same side of your family have had ovarian cancer under the age of 50, or there has been more than one case of ovarian and breast cancer in your family, you may have a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer.

This is because you may have inherited a BRCA1/2 gene mutation. BRCA1/2 gene mutations are associated with an up to 60% chance of developing ovarian cancer.

Age:  Ovarian cancer has a strong association with age. Currently around 84% of cases are diagnosed in women over the age of 50, and more than half of all cases in women over 65. It is however important to remember that a women can get ovarian cancer at any age so women of all ages should be symptom aware.

A long menstrual history: Ovarian cancer is linked to increased ovulations, therefore a long menstrual history can increase risk of getting the disease.  Things that contribute to a long menstrual history include: starting periods earlier, reaching the menopause at a later age and never giving birth.

Endometriosis: Endometriosis is a common condition where tissue that behaves like the lining of the womb (endometrium) is found in other parts of the body. It can appear in many different places, including the ovaries, fallopian tubes, inside the tummy, and in or around the bladder or bowel. Research shows that women who have endometriosis are at increased risk of ovarian cancer.

Hormone Replacement Therapy:  Research shows that using oestrogen-only or combined HRT increases a woman’s risk of ovarian cancer. It is thought that only 1% of ovarian cancer cases are linked to HRT use, and women should discuss all risks and benefits with their consultant when making decisions about its use.

How can I reduce my risk?

Oral contraception: recent research shows that using the combined oral contraceptive pill can reduce a woman’s risk of ovarian cancer for up to 30 years. A woman should always discuss their contraceptive options with their GP and weigh up the risks and benefits.

Giving birth and breast feeding: Both of these things help to reduce the number of ovulations a woman has during her menstrual cycle and can therefore help reduce risk of ovarian cancer.

Maintain a healthy lifestyle: trying to maintain a healthy body weight through a balanced diet and regular exercise, along with not smoking can help reduce a woman’s risk of ovarian cancer.

Content sourced from Ovarian Cancer Action (ovarian.org.uk). Click here to view our Women's Health content.

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