Each year in the United States, about 22,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer. About 15,000 American women die each year from the disease. Certain factors increase the risk for ovarian cancer, while other factors reduce risk.
The main risk factors for ovarian cancer are:
- Age – About two-thirds of women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer at age 55 or older. The average age for the onset of ovarian cancer is roughly 63, although ovarian cancer can develop in women of all ages.
- Family history of ovarian, breast, or colorectal cancer – this is the strongest risk factor for ovarian cancer
- Genetic mutations
- Obesity – Many studies have found an association between obesity and increased risk for ovarian cancer.
- Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) use – Long-term use (more than 5 years) of HRT may increase the risk of developing and dying from ovarian cancer. The risk appears to be particularly significant for women who take estrogen-only HRT.
- Menstrual and reproductive history – Women are at increased risk for ovarian cancer if they began menstruating at an early age (before age 12), have not had any children, had their first child after age 30, or experienced early menopause (before age 50).
It may seem that based on the above risk factors, some women are predisposed to ovarian cancer. However, research shows that a large percentage of cancer-related deaths—maybe even the majority—are directly linked to lifestyle choices such as smoking, drinking, a lack of exercise, and an unhealthy diet. There are things you can do to reduce your risk of developing ovarian cancer.
- Exercise – Evidence suggests a link between exercise and a reduced risk of epithelial ovarian cancer (cancer that is found in the cells on the surface of the ovary). Women who engage in high-intensity activity most often had a reduced risk of invasive ovarian cancer compared to women who reported no regular physical activity, according to a study published in the journal Cancer Causes & Control.
- Diet – There are specific foods you can eat to reduce your risk of ovarian cancer including onions, foods high in omega 3 fatty acids and endive. However, the best overall diet for preventing or fighting cancer is a predominantly plant-based diet that includes a variety of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. A plant-based diet means eating mostly foods that come from plants: vegetables, fruits, nuts, grains, and beans.
- Vitamins – Women taking vitamins C and E may have a lower risk of developing ovarian cancer, according to a recent study published in the journal Nutrition and Cancer. Women taking the most supplemental vitamin C (over 90 mg per day) had a 60% lower risk of ovarian cancer, compared with women not taking vitamin C. Similarly, women taking amounts of vitamin E above 30 mg per day had a 67% reduction in ovarian cancer risk, compared with women not taking vitamin E.