Women's Health Matters

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There are no clear recommendations for preventing ovarian cancer; however, knowing about some of the risk factors may be useful, particularly for women with a family history of the disease.

Limiting the Number of Menstrual Cycles

Several studies have shown that anything that reduces the number of periods a woman has throughout her life may also reduce her risk of ovarian cancer. This can include:

  • pregnancy
  • breastfeeding
  • the use of birth control pills
  • getting your period at a late age
  • starting menopause at a young age

Breastfeeding may reduce a woman's risk of ovarian cancer.Of course, we have no control over some of these factors, such as when we begin to menstruate. However, these findings are one reason to encourage women to breastfeed after childbirth. Studies have shown that women who breastfeed are less likely to develop ovarian cancer.

A study published by the Centre for Research in Women's Health, in 1998, showed that women who had a genetic risk for ovarian cancer but who had taken birth control pills were less likely to develop the disease. Although physicians do not prescribe birth control pills simply to reduce the risk of ovarian cancer in women without risk factors, women at genetic risk for ovarian cancer may be counselled to consider using birth control pills.

Avoiding Talcum Powder
The use of talcum powder on the genitals may be associated with ovarian cancer. Findings in this area are unclear. Some studies have found a link between the powder and ovarian cancer but this may be due, in part, to the fact that up until the 1970s, talcum powder contained asbestos. Since a connection between the talcum powder marketed today and cancer has not been ruled out, most health-care providers recommend avoiding talcum powders in the genital area. Cornstarch is a good alternative.

Eating a Low-Fat Diet Rich in Fibre and Vitamins
Research suggests there may be some connection between dietary factors and ovarian cancer. For the Iowa Women's Health Study, researchers collected information about the eating habits of 29,000 women over a 10-year period. Of these women, 139 developed ovarian cancer. This study suggested that the regular consumption of green leafy vegetables decreased a woman’s risk of developing ovarian cancer, while diets high in cholesterol and lactose increased the risk.

Other studies have associated a high-fat diet with ovarian cancer, although this was not apparent in the Iowa study. Recent research also suggests that a diet rich in fibre, fruits and vegetables lowers a woman’s risk of developing ovarian cancer.

Preventive Removal of the Ovaries
A woman at genetic risk for ovarian cancer may be counselled to consider having both ovaries removed as a preventive measure. This is called prophylactic oophorectomy. Studies have confirmed that for a woman who has the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genetic mutation or the hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer gene, prophylactic surgery greatly reduces (though it does not entirely eliminate) her chance of developing ovarian cancer. Women of childbearing age who have both ovaries removed will experience early menopause.

Avoiding Hormone Therapy
Hormone therapy is associated with a small increased risk of ovarian cancer. This may be something to consider before starting either estrogen-only therapy or estrogen-progestin hormone therapy.

Tubal Ligation
Women who have a tubal ligation (have their ‘tubes tied’), or surgery to block the fallopian tubes to prevent pregnancy, are substantially less likely to develop ovarian cancer. This procedure also reduces the risk of ovarian cancer for women with the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations.


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  • A publication of:
  • Women's College Hospital