Ovarian Cancer

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Ovarian Cancer – Major Factors for Reducing Your Risk

Dr. Jonathan Berek Stanford Medicine

1 in 70 women suffer from ovarian cancer at some point in their lives, and many women who have not been diagnosed with the disease want to know what their loved ones can do to reduce the risk of getting the disease. The good news is that there are important changes you can make in your life to reduce your ovarian cancer risk. We spoke to Dr. Jonathon Berek, Director of Stanford Women’s Cancer Center, about some of these changes.

Risk Factors for Ovarian Cancer

According to Berek, having a mutation in BRCA, a gene that aids in the ability of cells to repair DNA damage, increases your risk of getting ovarian cancer. Ironically, ovarian cancers with this type of mutation respond better to PARP inhibitors during treatment as well. Also, this isn’t the only gene mutation that can increase your risk, says Berek. “There are also a couple of other dozen genes that have been identified that are less likely to produce ovarian and fallopian tube cancer but [make you] predisposed to it,” he says. There is also some evidence that obesity can increase your risk of developing ovarian cancer, but the link is a bit weak, says Berek. “It’s not entirely clear. There’s some evidence that perhaps obesity might contribute…but the relationship is not quite as strong,” he says.

So what are the ways to reduce your risk?

Ways to Reduce Risk

According to Dr. Berek, there are two primary ways to reduce your risk of developing ovarian cancer:

  • Having children – Having children, particularly two or more children, can significantly reduce your risk of ovarian cancer. More specifically, one study out of Oxford University found that women with one child had about a 20% reduced risk compared to women without children. After that, the chance of contracting the disease decreased a further 8% for each additional child after the first.
  • Oral contraceptives – Sustained birth control, particularly birth control pills, has been shown to reduce your risk of developing ovarian cancer. This effect also, as shown recently, extends to women with fatal disease. “A recent study, conducted by the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, focused on the most aggressive forms of ovarian cancer and found that women with any history of taking birth control pills had a 46% lower risk of dying of ovarian cancer within 12 months of an ovarian cancer diagnosis. It also found  that for every five years of pill use, women had a 32% less chance of developing one of the more deadly forms of ovarian cancer.

Linking the two together, Berek says that women who have taken oral contraceptives for more than five years and have had two children can reduce their risk of ovarian cancer by 70%. These are two lifestyle changes that most women will be able to achieve. As Berek says, “Those are two of the things that people actually can do.” Of course, not every woman can simply have children and take oral contraceptives, but for those that can, it is a significant step that can reduce your ovarian cancer risk.

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Dr. Jonathan Berek is the Director of Stanford Women's Cancer Center. Read More

Ovarian Cancer: Screening and Risk

Ovarian cancer is notoriously hard to detect in the early stages when it’s most effectively treated. That’s why women should evaluate their risk factors for the disease and be vigilant about possible symptoms and warning signs.