TALK WITH YOUR DOCTOR
There are currently two options that may lower your risk for ovarian cancer. Your doctor can tell you about these options and whether either may be appropriate for you.
Medications: Birth control pills (oral contraceptives) have been shown to reduce the risk of ovarian cancer by up to 30–60%.
However, oral contraceptives have been linked to breast cancer and may be associated with other health risks. You should only use oral contraceptives for reducing your risk of ovarian cancer after discussing the risks and benefits with your doctor.
Preventive Surgery: Preventive surgery to remove the ovaries and fallopian tubes prior to cancer being able to develop is the most effective method for preventing ovarian cancer. However, this surgery is generally only recommended after genetic counseling and testing has shown a genetic change (mutation) associated with a very increased risk of ovarian cancer. For women at this highest level of risk, removing the ovaries and fallopian tubes after child bearing is complete can reduce the risk of ovarian and related cancers by 85–90%.
For pre-menopausal women, removal of the ovaries and fallopian tubes can also reduce the risk of breast cancer by 40–70%.
The decision to undergo a preventive surgery is a very important and personal choice and should only be made after careful consideration of the pros and cons with an appropriate medical professional.
Undergoing genetic counseling can be helpful if you have a personal or family history of cancer, even if no genetic testing is pursued.
Genetic Testing is a process in which a blood test may help to determine if you or your family members are at very high risk of ovarian and related cancers. The blood test looks to see if you are carrying a gene change passed down to you by one of your parents that causes a very high risk of cancer. Everyone carries thousands of genes. However, some people carry gene changes that have a high risk of causing cancer. The different genes that can carry changes that cause a very high risk of ovarian cancer are:
BRCA1 or BRCA2
Women who carry a change in one of these genes have up to a 60% lifetime risk of developing ovarian cancer and up to an 85% lifetime risk of developing breast cancer. These cancers can also occur at ages much earlier than seen in the general population
with some breast cancers being seen as early as the mid-20’s.
MLH1, MSH2 or MSH6
Women who carry a change in one of these genes have up to a 12% lifetime risk of developing ovarian cancer. Women with changes in these genes also have up to a 60% lifetime risk of both uterine and colon cancer. Similar to BRCA1 and BRCA2, changes in these genes can cause very early onset cancers, with some of the cancers occurring as early as age 25.
Importantly, changes in these genes can be inherited from either a mother or a father. While most of the cancers associated with changes in these genes only occur in women, men with changes in these genes can also be at increased risk of developing certain cancers. For this reason, men whose family history meets any of the increased risk criteria outlined previously are encouraged to talk with their doctors.
LEARN MORE ABOUT GENETIC COUNSELING AND TESTING
The Women’s Cancer Network www.wcn.org
The National Cancer Institute1.800.4.CANCER http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/BRCA
The information on this website is designed to aid women in making decisions about appropriate gynecologic care and does not substitute for evaluations with qualified medical professionals familiar with your individual circumstances. This website should also not be construed as dictating an exclusive course of treatment or procedure. Variations in practice may be warranted based on the needs of the individual woman, resources, and limitations unique to the institution or type of practice.
© 2011 Foundation for Women’s Cancer and Project Hope for Ovarian Cancer Research and Education. All rights reserved.