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.