Can ovarian cancer be prevented?
Ovarian cancer is the sixth most common cancer in women in the UK. In 2013, 7,027 women were diagnosed. Some cases of ovarian cancer could be prevented through making healthy lifestyle choices.
What is ovarian cancer?
Women have two ovaries, one on each side of the body. They are part of the reproductive system. The ovaries are connected to the womb (uterus) by the fallopian tube.
When a woman is of childbearing age, the ovaries produce an egg each month. If the egg is fertilised the woman becomes pregnant. The ovaries also produce the female sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone.
Ovarian cancer develops if cells in the ovary start to change and grow abnormally.
Who is most at risk of ovarian cancer?
As with all cancers, the risk of developing ovarian cancer depends on a number of factors and varies from person to person. Ovarian cancer mostly occurs in women over 50.
Lifestyle risk factors
- Being overweight or obese
- Smoking/using tobacco
- Not breastfeeding when you have a baby (limited evidence)
Other risk factors
- Age – risk increases as you get older
- Family history of ovarian or bowel cancer
- Height – taller women are at greater risk
- Starting your period early (before age 12)
- Going through menopause late (over age 55)
- Not having children
- Taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT) slightly increases the risk but the risk decreases gradually once you stop
How can you reduce your risk of ovarian cancer?
The good news is that there are some steps you can take to reduce your risk. These steps are based on research from our Continuous Update Project (CUP).
The most up-to-date research shows that, if you are overweight, your risk of ovarian cancer increases. In fact, we could prevent about one in 25 cases of ovarian cancer if we were all a healthy weight.
You can reduce your risk of ovarian cancer by not smoking. If you do smoke, stopping smoking will reduce your risk. The NHS stop smoking service can help you quit.
Visit NHS Choices to find out more about the risk factors, signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer.