Certain factors may reduce a woman’s risk of developing ovarian cancer.
Birth Control Pills
Taking birth control pills for at least two years can reduce the risk of ovarian cancer by about 50 percent even in women with a genetic predisposition like BRCA mutation.
Breast Feeding and Pregnancy
Both breast feeding and pregnancies can reduce the risk of ovarian cancer.
Women who undergo a hysterectomy or even less pelvic surgery like tubal ligation have a lower risk of developing ovarian cancer.
Women with a strong family history of ovarian cancer or BRCA mutations should strongly consider having both ovaries and fallopian tubes removed. This procedure is called a risk-reducing salpingo-oophorectomy and can usually be done by laparoscopy as an outpatient procedure. During laparoscopy, a 5mm diameter camera is inserted through the abdomen into the pelvis.
This operation often, but not always, protects women from developing the disease. Women considering this surgery should talk with a doctor and a genetic counselor to fully understand the risks and side effects of this surgery compared with the risk of eventually developing ovarian cancer.
Ovarian Cancer Screening
There is no currently recommended screening for ovarian cancer in the general population. This is different from screening for cancer of the cervix with pap smears.
Tests that are used most frequently to screen for ovarian cancer are transvaginal ultrasound that visualizes the ovaries, and determining the blood levels of CA-125. In patients with a family history positive for ovarian cancer, or a BRCA mutations, screening with ultrasound and CA-125 should be started at the age of 35 years, or 10 years prior to the age at diagnosis of the affected family member.
A variety of complex blood tests are currently under investigation that might improve our ability to detect ovarian cancer early.