Assessing Your Ovarian Cancer Risk

These days so much is known about risk factors for so many diseases. Knowing your risk factors for a given disease arms you with the knowledge you need to help ward off the disease, or at least to catch it early and get good treatment. There are many risk factors that can increase a woman's risk for ovarian cancer though the overall risk is only 1.5%. A woman with several risk factors has an increased risk of getting the disease, but knowing she's at risk can allow her to be assessed at regular checkups for signs of the cancer. That means chances are excellent that if ovarian cancer hits, you'll find it early enough to treat it and survive.

Gene Mutations

*Genetics—The BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations were originally thought specific to breast cancer and so they were named the breast cancer genes. Now, an association has been found between these mutations and ovarian cancer. BRCA1 increases the ovarian cancer risk by 35-70% and BRCA2 increases the risk from 10-30%

While not as significant a risk as the BRCA mutations, a genetic syndrome called hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC) predisposes the women of a family with this condition to get endometrial, ovarian, colon, and stomach cancers.

Ashkenazi Jewish women have the highest risk of all women for ovarian cancer.

*Family history—A family history of ovarian cancer raises your risk by 10-15%.

*Breast cancer—If you've had breast cancer, your risk for ovarian cancer is higher.

After Menopause

*Age—The risk for ovarian cancer grows as you age, with most women getting the cancer after menopause and before age 80.

*Fertility status—Women who have borne a child or who use oral contraceptives have a lower risk for the disease.

*Infertility—There is a link between infertility and getting ovarian cancer, though the connection is not well understood. Some think that using the fertility drug Clomid for longer than a year can cause ovarian cancer.

Estrogen Link

*Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)—There is a link between taking estrogen and progestin and ovarian cancer, though the risk is highest for those who took only estrogen and used it for more than five years.

*Obesity—Overweight women have a higher risk of ovarian cancer and tend to have the most aggressive types of tumors.

*Male hormones—Danazol, a medication consisting of the male hormone androgen is used to treat endometriosis and carries with its use an increased risk for ovarian cancer.


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