OVARIAN CANCER

There are currently no specific recommendations for preventing ovarian cancer. Researchers have identified several measures that seem to reduce a woman's risk for ovarian cancer. If you think you are at risk for ovarian cancer, it would be important to talk with your doctor. The following appear to be associated with reducing risk for epithelial ovarian cancer:

* Oral Contraceptives
Women who use oral contraceptives reduce their risk of ovarian cancer by 40% to 50%. The effect is even greater with long-term use. It also appears that even after discontinuation of oral contraceptives, the protection can last for as long as ten years. For more information on oral contraception and cancer, click here.

* Pregnancy
Women who have been pregnant have a 30% to 60% lower risk of developing ovarian cancer than women who were never pregnant. With each pregnancy, a woman further reduces her risk of developing ovarian cancer.

* Breast-feeding
There is some research that suggests that breast-feeding may offer some protection against ovarian cancer.

* Tubal Ligation
Tubal ligation (having one’s fallopian tubes tied to prevent pregnancy) appears to significantly reduce the risk of ovarian cancer, although it is not known why.

* Removal of Ovaries
Once the ovaries are removed, a woman cannot develop ovarian cancer. Women age 35 and over with a family history of ovarian cancer may choose to undergo a prophylactic oophorectomy (removal of the ovaries). Women who are age 40 and over who are planning to have a hysterectomy for a noncancerous condition may also consider having their ovaries removed. However the benefit of prophylactic oophorectomy has not yet been established. For more information from the NCI click here and from the New England Journal of Medicine, click here.

* Dietary & Other Agents
There is evidence of an increased ovarian cancer risk among women who have a high-fat diet, ongoing exposure to talc and/or use fertility drugs. Avoiding these agents may reduce a woman’s risk of ovarian cancer, but it is difficult to determine by how much.

* Screening for Ovarian Cancer
There are no official recommendations on screening for ovarian cancer, however some groups have made some statements concerning this issue. A National Institutes of Health Consensus Conference on Ovarian Cancer recommended doctors take a careful family history and perform an annual pelvic examination on all women. The reliability of available screening tests for ovarian cancer in women with no symptoms is uncertain and requires further study. There is currently no evidence that routine screening will improve overall health outcomes although some tests can detect occasional asymptomatic tumors. Clinical trials to further investigate screening for ovarian cancer are underway. For more information about these trials, click here.