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What are the causes and risks of ovarian cancer?

by on March 26, 2012

On Friday AJ told us about the symptoms of ovarian cancer, today we’re going to continue with our educational series and discuss the causes and risks of ovarian cancer.

According to the Mayo Clinic, there is no smoking gun for ovarian cancer – like say, smoking is for lung cancer – as there are no known causes.

There are 3 main types of ovarian cancer:

  1. epithelial tumors which grow on the layer of tissue covering the outside of the ovaries and account for the majority of ovarian cancer diagnoses.
  2. germ cell tumors which begin on the egg-producing cells and are most common in younger women.
  3. stromal tumors which begin in the hormone-producing cells.

The Mayo Clinic does list several risk factors for ovarian cancer.  Most of the women diagnosed with ovarian cancer will likely not have any known risk factors but the risk of getting ovarian cancer is increased by having the following risk factors:

  • genetic mutations.  There are two genetic links to ovarian cancer which significantly increase the risk of getting ovarian cancer.  The so-called breast cancer genes 1 and 2 (BRAC1 and BRAC2) which shows that women with the mutation have an increased risk of both breast cancer and ovarian cancer.  The other genetic link is the hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC) gene which shows increased risk of uterine, ovarian, colon, and stomach cancers.
  • history of cancer.  Whether it is a family history of ovarian cancer or a previous diagnosis of breast, colon, rectal or uterine cancer; a woman is at increased risk of ovarian cancer.
  • increasing age. It is a cancer more commonly found after menopause though it can occur at any age.
  • reproductive history & infertility. Research suggests that a woman is at increased risk if she “started menstruating at an early age (before 12), has not given birth to any children, had her first child after 30, experienced menopause after 50, or has never taken oral contraceptives.”  Infertility, regardless of whether it was treated, is also a risk factor.
  • hormone replacement therapy for post-menopausal women and obesity are both inconclusive risk factors with some studies showing a link while others do not.

Given that there is no known cause for ovarian cancer, one or more of these risk factors does not indicate that you will get ovarian cancer cancer in your lifetime.

But if you are at increased risk, get to know the symptoms of ovarian cancer.

As with all cancers, early detection saves lives.

– Marcy

P.S. Facts are facts, people, so forgive me for the dryness of this post.

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