Cancer Care

Ovarian Cancer: Risk Factors and Possible Protective Factors

We humans, while all individually different, have a lot in common — including being alarmed by the fact that there are no clear, scientifically proven causes for a lot of medical conditions. Case in point: Ovarian cancer risk factors are well researched, despite the fact that we don't know what causes ovarian cancer. Because of this, we can pay attention to risk factors and weigh our options based on them. By knowing what makes you more likely to develop ovarian cancer, you'll be more aware and proactive. You don't need to constantly worry about the chances of getting a certain disease down the road, but if you're educated, you'll be in a better place mentally no matter what happens.

Ovarian Cancer Risk Factors

Many of the risk factors of ovarian cancer derive simply from inheritance. Other key causes revolve around a certain ethnic background and more tangible health issues, such as obesity, having never given birth, or having other cancers. Hormone-replacement therapy is also linked to a slightly increased risk of ovarian cancer. Finally, some risk factors are even more basic: Sedentary lifestyles, smoking, and aging all contribute to a higher risk.

Protective Factors

Because we don't know the direct cause of ovarian cancer, we also don't know certain means of prevention — but you can take steps to lower your risk based on the factors mentioned above that are in your control. Risk-preventing lifestyle changes are obvious: A healthy diet, plenty of exercise, and quitting smoking is a good start for general health and increasing protection against all types of cancers.

There are some other protective factors that have been linked to reducing the risk of ovarian cancer: Having a child and breastfeeding, using oral contraceptives, and certain surgeries such as tubal ligation and removal of the ovaries/fallopian tubes. It is important to note that these protective factors carry their own risks. Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, you should never choose to go through any of the aforementioned factors solely as a means of lowering your risk of ovarian cancer.

It's easy to get overwhelmed if you think about the long-term implications of every medical option, so it's best to rely on communication with your medical team, which is your best tool for making informed decisions. Discuss any concerns you have about ovarian cancer with your physician, along with your family history or other risk factors, and work with your medical team to assess your risk and develop a plan for reducing those risks. But most importantly, live well and healthfully — you'll find it's your best defense against not only ovarian cancer, but also a slew of other health risks.

Posted in Cancer Care

Judy Schwartz Haley is a freelance writer and blogger. She grew up in Alaska and now makes her home in Seattle with her husband and young daughter. Judy battled breast cancer when her daughter was an infant, and now she devotes much of her free time to volunteering as a state leader with the Young Survival Coalition, which supports young women with breast cancer.

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*This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute health care advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor or physician before making health care decisions.