Ovarian cancer develops when the cells in the ovaries tend to grow and multiply in an uncontrollable manner, which overtime produces lump of tissues called tumour. This begins when certain mutation (DNA errors) begin in the ovary cells creating abnormal cells. These abnormal cells continue to grow once the healthy cells dies, invading nearby tissues and possible spreading to other part of the body.
The reason why ovarian cancer happens to individuals (women) isn’t clear to most medical scientist, but there are certain factors that may increase the risk of getting ovarian cancer.
Risk Factors Associated With Ovarian Cancer
Any factor that increases an individual risk of developing cancer is termed risk factors. Different cancers have different risk factors, yet some are changeable (e.g. smoking) while others are not changeable (e.g. family history).
By having one or more risk factors doesn’t necessarily mean that an individual would definitely get ovarian cancer because some individuals who have cancer may not have any known risk factors to be aligned with.
The risk factors associated with ovarian cancer include:
- Age: This risk of developing ovarian cancer tends to increase as a woman grows older, with most cases of such cancer occurring in women who had passed their menopause. It is quite rare in women who are younger than the age of 40 years, increasing steeply from around 45 years and more increasingly from women between the ages of 63 – 79 years old. About 50% of women with ovarian cancer are usually after the age of 63 years.
- Family History of Ovarian Cancer: Women who have two or more close relatives with ovarian cancer have an increased chance of having ovarian cancer, especially if the close relatives happen to be their mother, sister, or daughter (this increases the risk 3x more than a woman without a family history). Increased risk for it can also come from a father’s relative. Also family history of other form of cancers like colorectal and breast cancer is also linked with an increased risk of ovarian cancer.
- Inherited Gene Mutations: Ovarian cancers can also be caused by faulty genes that might have been inherited from parents, which is just a small percentage from women with ovarian cancer (5 – 15 out of a 100 ovarian cancer cases). This gene mutation known to increase the risk of ovarian cancer is called breast cancer gene 1 (BRCA1) and breast cancer gene 2 (BRCA2). These genes also increase the risk of breast cancer. But having relatives with ovarian cancer does not necessarily mean a woman will develop a faulty inherited gene, because the cancer could have been caused by other means.
- Obesity (Overweight): Being overweight is one of the risk factors associated with many cancers including ovarian cancer. Obese women with body mass index (BMI) 30 and above have an higher risk of developing ovarian cancer; and also affect their overall survival from ovarian cancer.
- Personal History of Breast Cancer: A woman has an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer if she has had breast cancer in the past. The risk of ovarian cancer after breast cancer is highest in those women with a family history of breast cancer. A strong family history of breast cancer may be caused by an inherited mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes and hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome, which is linked to an increased risk of ovarian cancer. Also the reproductive risk factors for ovarian cancer may also affect breast cancer risk.
- Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT): Women taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT) after menopause have an increased risk of ovarian cancer, especially those who use estrogens alone or with progesterone. Although this risk is very small and very helpful for women with menopausal symptoms, yet it is thought to decrease after HRT intake is stopped.
- Pregnancy History: For women who never got pregnant or had their first full – term pregnancy after the age of 35 have a higher risk of ovarian cancer.
- Fertility Treatment: Women who use fertility treatment with In-vitro fertilization (IVF) seems to increase the risk of developing ovarian tumors known as borderline cells or low malignant potential; although not all recent medical research agree with this.
- Smoking: Smoking increases the risk of certain types of ovarian cancer such as mucinous cancer. Putting a stop to smoking can help decrease one’s chances of developing ovarian cancer.
- Certain Medical Conditions: Recent studies have shown that women with certain medical conditions such as diabetes or endometriosis have an increased risk of ovarian cancer. For diabetic women, the risk is higher in women that use insulin. For endometriosis, the cells that usually line the womb begins to grow elsewhere (in the stomach or ovaries) causing bleeding during menstruation; and once this bleeding gets too much, it begins to cause severe pain the affected area.
- Exposure to Asbestos: The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has made it known that asbestos usage is one of the causes of ovarian cancer in women. Asbestos is a whitish material that is used in buildings for flooring and roofing.
- Talcum Powder: The use of talcum powder especially between the legs can increase the risk of ovarian cancer among women, although such risk is quite small.
- Androgens: Having too much androgens such as the testosterone which are male hormones can increase the risk of ovarian cancer in a woman.
Protective Factors Associated With ovarian cancer
Just as risk factor are those that increase the risk of cancer, same also do we have the protective factors. These are the factors that help reduce or lower the chances of developing cancer.
The protective factors that may reduce the risk of ovarian cancer include:
- Birth History and Breastfeeding: Getting pregnant or having children tend to reduce the risk associated with ovarian cancer. Women got pregnant full – term before the age of 26 years do have a much lower risk of ovarian cancer than women who don’t; with each risk getting lower has she begin to have more children. Also breastfeeding also do help to lower the risk of ovarian cancer much better. This is because the moment a woman is pregnant or breastfeeding, her ovulation stops (the more ovulation, the lower the risk of ovarian cancer).
- Birth Control: The usage of combined contraceptives especially oral contraceptives (pill) helps to lower the risk of ovarian cancer. The longer a woman takes the pill, the lower the risk of ovarian cancer.
- Hysterectomy: This is the removal of the womb by a woman to avoid pregnancy. Having a hysterectomy can also reduce the risk of ovarian cancer (especially in young women). Also, having the fallopian tubes tied and the short use of IUDs (intrauterine devices) help to lower the risk of ovarian cancer.
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