Ovarian cancer risk factors and prevention among Asian women
Ovarian cancer is a disease affecting the cells in a woman’s ovaries, the pair of female reproductive organs responsible for producing eggs and hormones that regulate other important functions of the body. A cancerous tumour starts from one abnormal cell. However, the exact reason why a cell becomes cancerous is unclear.
Ovarian cancer ranks in the top five of new cancers afflicting women in Singapore and many cases are diagnosed at an advanced stage. Most cases of ovarian cancer occur in women aged 50 and above. The risk tends to climb as you get older. There are some risk factors that may increase your susceptibility to the disease and can be classified as modifiable or non-modifiable:
Non-modifiable risk factors are background circumstances that you cannot change:
- Personal and/or family history of breast cancer or ovarian cancer
- Genetic disorders such as inherited mutations in BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes
- Gynaecological conditions such as endometriosis
Modifiable risk factors concern exposure from harmful behaviours that you can control:
- Talc use
Having certain risk factors does not mean that you will get ovarian cancer, and there are steps that can be taken to protect against the disease:
- Oral contraceptives (also known as birth control pills) have been estimated to lower risks of ovarian cancer by 60% in average-risk women, and the benefits appear to last even years after use is discontinued.
- Pregnancy and breastfeeding may reduce your likelihood of developing the disease.
- Genetic testing can be instrumental in detecting underlying risks in individuals who demonstrate a strong family history of related cancers and provide for proper precautions to be made.
- Removal of the ovaries and fallopian tubes is one of the most effective safeguards against hereditary ovarian cancers and can be done once childbearing is completed or by age 40.
Ovarian cancer is often described as a “silent killer”. Its various possible causes are yet fully understood, and there are no reliable screening tools at present to find and cure the disease before more advanced symptoms begin to show.
Ovarian Cancer Debunking Myths, Ovarian Cancer Symptoms by Dr Timothy Lim, Singapore Cancer Society
Seek early medical advice if you believe that you may be at a higher risk, assess your options and discuss the pros and cons with your doctor.
This article has been fact-checked by Dr Timothy Lim, specialist in obstetrics and gynaecology at Timothy Lim Clinic for Women & Cancer Surgery, Mount Alvernia Hospital.