Preventing Ovarian Cancer

All women, simply because of their gender, are at risk for developing ovarian cancer.

Understanding the causes and risk factors of ovarian cancer is also key to survival. Whilst the exact causes of the disease are not known, many risk factors are known, including:
  • Being a white (Caucasian) woman from a westernised country, with a high living standard.
  • Having certain medical conditions, such as endometriosis.
  • Smoking cigarettes.
  • Being obese, having an increased Body Mass Index (BMI) and eating a high-fat diet. 
  • Having begun menstruation before age 12 or reached menopause after age 50.
  • Having had no or few children or their first child after the age of 30, or having never breastfed or used oral contraceptive pills.
  • Having a personal or family history of ovarian, breast or colorectal cancer.
  • Having mutations in the BRCA-1 or BRCA-2 genes (this increases the risk of ovarian cancer by 16–44%) (Ovations for the Cure of Ovarian Cancer, n.d).

Such ways of protecting against and reducing the risk of ovarian cancer are called protective factors. These protective factors include:
  • Using oral contraception (birth control pills) for five or more consecutive years. This reduces the risk of developing ovarian cancer by 50%, and the risk continues to drop the longer the pills are used (Ovations for the Cure of Ovarian Cancer, n.d).
  • Having one or more children, particularly before age 30, and breast feeding decreases the risk of developing ovarian cancer.
  • Exercise reduces the risk of ovarian cancer by 27%, according to studies in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (Ribbons to Remember, n.d).

All women should take action to reduce their risk of ovarian cancer and therefore understand the risk factors and enact these protective factors.

Take care,
Madeleine Moore

Being Aware of Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer is the ninth most common cancer diagnosed in Australian women and the seventh most common cause of cancer death in Australian women (Cancer Australia, n.d). Ovarian cancer is a concern for women, as it can affect the quality and even length of life for women. This disease is common and can easily spread to other organs in the pelvis and in the body and thus become more difficult to treat. 

It is vital the women know the symptoms of ovarian cancer, so they can be mindful of this silent killer. However, the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance reported that 89% of women were unaware of ovarian cancer symptoms before being diagnosed (Ribbons to Remember, n.d).This is a major barrier to good health behaviours regarding ovarian cancer, thus people must be educated about this disease. 

The four most common symptoms of ovarian cancer are:
  • Sudden increase in abdominal size or persistent abdominal bloating;
  • Loss of appetite, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly;
  • Abdominal or pelvic pain, pressure or discomfort; and
  • Persistent urinary urgency and/or unexplained changes in bowel habits (such as diarrhoea, constipation or flatulence).
Approximately 90% of women with ovarian cancer reported having these symptoms (Ribbons to Remember, n.d).

The symptoms of ovarian cancer are generally subtle and associated with non-cancerous (benign) conditions. Symptoms vary depending on the stage of the cancer, being more severe as the disease progresses. This is why ovarian cancer is often called a silent killer; it is very difficult to detect in its early stages. In fact, only 19% of ovarian cancers are diagnosed when most responsive to treatment – before they have spread to other organs (become metastatic) (Ovarian Cancer Australia, 2010). 

Be sure to remember these symptoms and, if you notice them, consult with your doctor if they persist for two weeks.

Interesting facts and stats about ovarian cancer:
  • Women are usually diagnosed in advanced stages and only 45% survive longer than five years. However, when ovarian cancer is detected and treated early on, the five-year survival rate is greater than 92%. (Ribbons to Remember, n.d).
  • One in 79 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer before 85 (Cancer Australia, n.d).
  • 1300 Australian women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year (Cancer Australia, n.d).
  • One in five women can't name one symptom of ovarian cancer (Cancer Australia, n.d).
  • Only 59% of women are correctly diagnosed with ovarian cancer (Ribbons to Remember, n.d).

Take care,