Preventing ovarian cancer

Currently, there is no reliable screening test for ovarian cancer. However, there are a number of things that may help prevent ovarian cancer.

Stopping ovulation and the contraceptive pill

Each time you ovulate, your ovaries are damaged by an egg breaking through and being released into your reproductive system. The cells that make up the surface of your ovaries divide and multiply rapidly in order to repair the damage caused by the egg. It is this rapid cell growth that can occasionally go wrong and result in ovarian cancer.

Therefore, anything that stops the process of ovulation can help minimise your chances of developing ovarian cancer. Factors that stop ovulation temporarily or altogether include:

Diet and lifestyle

Research into ovarian cancer has found the condition may be linked to being overweight or obese. Losing weight through exercise and having a balanced diet may help lower your risk of ovarian cancer. Aside from this, it is known that regular exercise and a healthy, low-fat diet are extremely beneficial to your overall health, and can help prevent all forms of cancer and heart disease.

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Screening for ovarian cancer

At present, there is no screening method for ovarian cancer reliable enough to be used by all women in the UK. Clinical trials into this are continuing.

Women may be eligible for screening if they are at high risk of developing the disease because of a strong family history or they have inherited a specific abnormal gene.

If you are at high risk, your GP can refer you to your local genetics service or family cancer clinic. You may be screened for ovarian cancer once you are over the age of 35, or once you are five years away from the age at which your youngest relative was diagnosed with the condition. From this point, you will be screened again once a year.

The screening tests for ovarian cancer are the same as those routinely used to diagnose it. The tests are:

  • blood test for higher-than-normal levels of CA125 (a chemical produced by cancer cells)
  • a transvaginal ultrasound, where an ultrasound probe is inserted into your vagina to show the size and texture of your ovaries, as well as any cysts that may be present

The tests are used together to produce results that are as accurate as possible. However, as these screening methods are still in the process of being tested, they cannot guarantee they will identify every case of ovarian cancer.

A cervical screening test (smear test) cannot detect ovarian cancer.

Online personal education and risk assessment (OPERA)

If you are concerned about your risk of developing inherited ovarian cancer, you can use Macmillan’s online interactive assessment tool, OPERA.

It is designed to be used by patients and health professionals to assess a person’s risk of developing the condition based on their family history of breast cancer and ovarian cancer. This is because the genes mainly responsible for ovarian cancer are also linked to breast cancer.

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