It is not currently possible to prevent ovarian cancer. But several factors can increase or decrease a person’s risk, such as taking oral contraceptives.

Ovarian cancer involves abnormal cells growing uncontrollably in the ovaries, fallopian tube, or peritoneum, the tissue that covers most organs in the abdomen and lines the abdominal wall.

The symptoms of ovarian cancer can include:

  • bleeding or unusual discharge from the vagina
  • pain around the pelvis
  • bloating
  • stomach or back pain
  • difficulty eating
  • changes in bathroom habits, such as frequently needing to urinate

Many different health conditions can cause these symptoms. Several tests, such as pelvic exams and blood tests, can help doctors diagnose the condition.

Read on to learn about risk factors, protective factors, and the outlook for ovarian cancer.

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Around 1 in 78 women develop ovarian cancer in their lifetimes, the American Cancer Society reports. A risk factor is any trait or behavior that increases the likelihood of developing this disease.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) gives these risk factors for ovarian cancer:

  • middle or older age
  • a family history of ovarian cancer
  • genetic mutations such as BRCA1, BRCA2, or those associated with Lynch syndrome
  • breast, uterine, or colon cancer
  • an Eastern European or Ashkenazi Jewish heritage
  • overweight or obesity
  • difficulties becoming pregnant or giving birth
  • endometriosis, in which tissue similar to the lining of the uterus grows elsewhere
  • hormone replacement therapy

The CDC notes that these factors have a relatively small influence on the risk of ovarian cancer and that most people who develop this disease are not in a high-risk group.

Anyone with one or more of these risk factors should speak with a doctor about their risk and possible testing.

There are currently no methods of preventing ovarian cancer beyond identifying and avoiding any modifiable risk factors.

It is not always possible to avoid risk factors for ovarian cancer, such as a family history. But being aware of these factors could encourage a person to be more vigilant about the symptoms and contact a doctor early.

Because obesity is a risk factor, maintaining a moderate weight could be one way to reduce the risk. Having a healthy, balanced diet and regularly exercising is a good approach to maintaining a moderate weight.

A “protective factor” is anything that reduces a person’s risk of cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, protective factors for ovarian cancer include:

  • Oral contraceptives: People who take oral contraceptives have a lower risk of ovarian cancer, and this risk reduces further the longer a person takes these pills. However, oral contraceptives can pose other health risks, such as a risk of blood clots, particularly in those who smoke.
  • Giving birth: People who give birth have a lower risk of ovarian cancer, compared with those who do not. Giving birth multiple times is associated with a lower risk, compared with a single birth.
  • Breastfeeding: People who breastfeed or chestfeed have a reduced risk of ovarian cancer, which continues to decrease the longer lactation continues.
  • Tubal ligation or salpingectomy: These are surgical procedures to close or remove one or both fallopian tubes. Having either surgery is associated with a lower risk of ovarian cancer.

Some women with a high risk of ovarian cancer may choose to have a risk-reducing salpingo-oophorectomy. This is a procedure to remove the fallopian tubes and ovaries.

The American Cancer Society reports that postmenopausal women with BRCA gene mutations can reduce their risk of ovarian cancer by 85–90% and of breast cancer by 50% with a risk-reducing salpingo-oophorectomy.

If a person undergoes this surgery before menopause, it results in infertility and early menopause. In this case, doctors tend to only recommend it for people who do not wish to conceive.

After the procedure, there is still a small risk of ovarian cancer developing in the peritoneum.

The CDC notes that most people have a very small risk of ovarian cancer. And for this group, the protective factors above have a very limited impact on their risk.

People should discuss their risk and the relative benefits of protective factors with a doctor before making a decision.

The National Cancer Institute, meanwhile, reports a lack of evidence that any of the following factors influence ovarian cancer risk:

The outlook for someone with ovarian cancer depends on several factors, including how early doctors detected it. Doctors only detect this cancer at an early stage in 20% of cases.

The outlook also depends on the location and spread of the tumor.

Most people with ovarian cancer live for at least 5 years after the diagnosis. According to the American Cancer Society, the 5-year survival rates are:

  • 93–98% for localized cases, in which the tumor has not spread
  • 75–94% for regional cases, in which the tumor has spread to areas near the ovaries
  • 31–73% for distant cases, in which the tumor has spread to distant areas of the body

It is worth keeping in mind that all survival rates are based on averages of past data, and they may not take into account recent advances in detection or treatment. And factors specific to each person can play an important role.

A person with ovarian cancer has several treatment options, depending on factors such as the severity of the tumor. Doctors may suggest surgery to remove cancerous tissues and chemotherapy to kill remaining cancerous cells that are difficult to remove through surgery.

Learn more about ovarian cancer treatment here.

Anyone with symptoms of ovarian cancer should contact a doctor.

The American Cancer Society makes no recommendations about screening for people without an increased risk or symptoms.

For people with a high risk, a doctor may recommend regular screening, such as blood tests or ultrasounds. However, the American Cancer Society states that there is no evidence that regular screening reduces the risk of dying from ovarian cancer, for those with a high risk.

It is not currently possible to prevent ovarian cancer for most people. Avoiding risk factors could help, but many of the known risk factors are unavoidable, such as genetic mutations.

Most people have a low risk of ovarian cancer, and having one or more risk factors is likely to have only a small influence on this risk.

Several protective factors can lower the risk of ovarian cancer, such as taking oral contraceptives. However, these protective factors have their own risks and may be inappropriate for some people.