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How To Know If You Are At Risk For Ovarian Cancer?

By Dr. Nikita Toshi +2 more

Ovarian cancer, just after cervical and uterine cancer, is the third most common gynaecological cancer seen in women worldwide. It is known to be a silent killer due to its asymptomatic nature and slow tumour growth. It’s not clear what causes ovarian cancer, but it starts when cells in or near the ovaries develop mutations and start to multiply abnormally, creating a mass (tumour) of cancer cells due to rapid cell growth at the cost of healthy cells.

Whether you have ovarian cancer or know someone recovering from it, knowing what to expect can help you cope. In this blog, we will learn all about ovarian cancer, including risk factors, diagnosis, prevention and treatment methods. 

Depending on which type of cell the cancer is at, the doctor determines the subsequent treatment. Ovarian cancer types include:

  1. Epithelial ovarian cancer – is the most common type found in women, including several subtypes. Epithelial ovarian tumours start on the outer surface of the ovaries. These tumours can be benign (not cancer), borderline (low malignant potential) or malignant (cancer). Borderline Tumors grow slowly, tend to affect younger women and are less life-threatening than most ovarian cancers. While 85% to 90% of malignant ovarian cancers are epithelial ovarian carcinomas.
  2. Stromal tumours – are rare, about 1% of all ovarian cancers and diagnosed at an earlier stage than other kinds. The most common symptom of these tumours is abnormal vaginal bleeding.  
  3. Germ cell tumour– Germ cells usually form the eggs in females and the sperm in males. Less than 2% of ovarian cancers are germ cell tumours. Germ cell tumours are rare and usually affect women in their teens and twenties.  

The more relatives you have with ovarian cancer, the higher your risk. Your family history of ovarian cancer put you at higher risk. You may want to talk with your healthcare provider about genetic testing. Gene testing can tell you if you have an inherited gene mutation that raises your risk.

Dr. M.G. Kartheeka, MBBS, MD

Risk factors: Who’s most likely to get ovarian cancer?

A risk factor is anything that increases your chance of getting an illness. But having a risk factor or even many does not mean that you will certainly get it. However, the risk of developing epithelial ovarian cancer may increase for women with the following risk factors:

  1. Growing old. Half of all ovarian cancers are found in women 63 years of age or older and most ovarian cancers develop after menopause. It is rare in women under 40.  
  2. Obesity: Obese women (those with a body mass index [BMI] of 30 or above) are at a higher risk of developing and surviving ovary cancer.  
  3. Having children after 35 years of age or never having a full-term pregnancy.  
  4. Using estrogens alone or with progesterone (hormone therapy) after menopause.  
  5. Having a family history of ovarian cancer, breast cancer or colorectal cancer.
  6. Inheriting gene changes. Up to 25% of ovarian cancers are a part of family cancer syndromes resulting from inherited changes (mutations) in certain genes.  
  7. Women suffer from Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer syndrome (HBOC), which is caused by inherited mutations in the genes BRCA1 and BRCA2.  
  8. Endometriosis- A condition in which tissue similar to the tissue that lines the inside of your uterus grows outside your uterus. This may lead to heavy, irregular bleeding and severe pain during periods.
  9. Women who experience early menstruation and early menopause.  
  10. Using in vitro fertilization (IVF) fertility treatment might increase the risk of the type of ovarian tumours known as “borderline” or “low malignant potential”

Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer

Although these symptoms can be easily confused with other problems and are not always noticeable in the early stages, women with ovarian cancer often report the following symptoms: 

  1. Vaginal bleeding past menopause or abnormal vaginal discharge  
  2. Pain or pressure in the pelvic area
  3. Abdominal pain
  4. Back pain
  5. Bloating
  6. Feeling full too quickly or having difficulty eating
  7. Frequent urination
  8. Constipation
  9. Weight loss

How to prevent ovarian cancer?

There’s no sure way to prevent ovarian cancer. But there may be ways to reduce your risk, measures such as:

  • Birth control- women who have used oral contraceptives (also known as birth control pills or the pill) have a lower risk of ovarian cancer. But these medications do carry other risks, so ask your doctor if the benefits outweigh those risks based on your situation.
  • Pregnancy and breastfeeding– Women who have carried a full-term pregnancy before age of 30 and have breastfed their child have a lower risk of ovarian cancer than women who have not.  
  • Genetic counselling. If you have a family history of breast and ovarian cancers, bring this up with your doctor. You may be referred to a genetic counsellor who can tell you if you have a gene change that increases your risk of ovarian cancer, you may consider surgery to remove your ovaries to prevent cancer.
  • Regular testing after menopause. If you don’t have a family history and are experiencing any of the listed symptoms, a blood test and a CT scan are commonly the first tests done. Sometimes, ovaries are too small to be visible on a scan, especially after menopause and you may be required to take other tests such as cancer markers or Biopsy.


The most common symptoms of ovarian cancer include bloating, pelvic pain, weight loss, fatigue, feeling full quickly, changes in bowel habits, such as constipation and frequent urination. If you’ve been experiencing one or many of these signs, consult a doctor today.

A woman’s risk of getting high malignant ovarian cancer during her lifetime is about 1 in 78 and about 1 in 108 for dying from it. Ovarian cysts are also common but most ovarian cysts are not harmful, don’t cause symptoms and do not create future risk for ovarian cancer. So, just because you’ve hit menopause or do not plan on getting pregnant, you aren’t doomed with ovarian cancer. Just make sure you follow timely testing for ovarian cancer and your reproductive health.

Also Read: Benefits of Getting Off Birth Control: A Research-Based Overview

Disclaimer: The information included on this site is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for medical treatment by a healthcare professional. Because of unique individual needs, the reader should consult their physician to determine the appropriateness of the information for the reader’s situation.


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