It is estimated that the risk of developing ovarian cancer is approximately 1 in 78, and this includes many women who are not thought to be “high risk.” Ovarian cancer refers to cancer of the ovaries, but the term can also refer to cancer of the fallopian tubes or the peritoneum, another aspect of the female reproductive system. A recent study indicates that most, if not all, cases of diagnosed ovarian cancer actually begin in the fallopian tubes, not in the ovaries as once thought. Read on to learn about the implications for prevention, overall risk factors for ovarian cancer, and when you should talk to your physician about screening.
Ovarian Cancer Risk Factors
Certain risk factors put some women at a higher risk than others for being diagnosed with ovarian cancer. While it’s often referred to as “the breast cancer gene,” having a DNA test that reveals either the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genetic mutation instantly puts a woman at a higher risk. Tubal ligation (having your “tubes tied”) has also been connected with cases of ovarian cancer, which has led physicians to no longer perform the surgery.
Other risk factors include being of middle age or beyond, having endometriosis, being of Ashkenazi Jewish or Eastern European descent, and those who have never given birth (or have had trouble conceiving). There is also evidence to support that women who have taken estrogen (but not progesterone) for long periods have a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer.
The most important thing you can do is be aware of your family history. If you have a first-degree relative with any type of reproductive cancer or breast cancer, let your doctor know immediately. This likely qualifies you for earlier or more thorough screening, as well as genetic testing (to see if the BRCA mutations are present).
Fallopian Tubes and Ovarian Cancer
Studies now suggest that the most severe forms of ovarian cancer (high-grade serous ovarian carcinomas) originate in the fallopian tubes and not in the ovaries themselves, as previously thought. Overall, this information concluded that it could take upward of six to seven years for the cancer to spread from the fallopian tubes to the ovaries, and the carcinomas themselves may be the product of tumors that develop in fallopian tube epithelia.
What does this mean exactly? It means there may be changes in screening, early detection, and diagnosis because now physicians will need to concentrate on other areas of the reproductive system (namely, the fallopian tubes) to catch ovarian cancer early and before it spreads.
Prevention of Ovarian Cancers
With some diseases and cancers, there are clear measures patients can take to help prevent the diagnosis of cancer. For example, with regard to colon cancer, women are often advised to keep their BMI within normal ranges and to avoid red meat. Unfortunately, ovarian cancer is not as simple. Doctors and researchers hope that, with a little more information on how ovarian cancer develops in the fallopian tubes, patients can be better advised on screening or behavioral practices to avoid cancer or to detect it early.
When it comes to ovarian cancer, knowledge is certainly the key. If you have concerns, getting the genetic testing that shows the presence of the BRCA mutations is strongly advised, as well as consistent checkups and screenings with your physician. Maintaining a healthy weight is also advised. Ovarian cancer is screened with a regular pelvic exam (and Pap smear), as well as a transvaginal ultrasound and CA-125 blood test, which detects CA-125 protein in the blood. Those with a family history of reproductive or breast cancers should let their doctor know, so they have access to earlier screening.
If you need more information about ovarian cancer and its risks or would like to be seen for a potential screening or consultation, request an appointment at The Woman’s Clinic today. We offer two separate and convenient locations and the best of care at every life stage.