Preventing ovarian cancer

This page was reviewed under our medical and editorial policy by

Ruchi Garg, MD, Chair, Gynecologic Oncology, City of Hope Atlanta, Chicago and Phoenix

This page was reviewed on September 16, 2022.

Although there is no known way to prevent ovarian cancer, there are ways to reduce your risk. Some of these ways involve lifestyle changes and choices that may be easier to make, while others are more serious, like surgery to remove the ovaries. Even then, it’s possible for women who don’t have their ovaries to develop ovarian cancer, although the risk is lower. While there is no known way to prevent ovarian cancer, there are steps women can take to reduce their risk.

How to reduce the risk for ovarian cancer

Risk-reduction strategies vary depending on the type of ovarian cancer. Women may reduce their risk of developing epithelial ovarian cancer, the most common type of ovarian cancer, but it’s not as clear how to reduce the risk for other types of tumors in the ovaries, including germ cell and stromal tumors.

Certain ovarian cancer prevention strategies may actually raise the risk for other cancers in some women. Because reducing the risk of ovarian cancer is complex, it’s a good idea to discuss options with your medical provider.

Factors that may lower ovarian cancer risk

Risk factors that may affect the risk for ovarian cancer include:

  • Having a baby: Women who have carried a baby to term before the age of 26 have a lower risk.
  • Breastfeeding: Breastfeeding for a year or more may lead to a moderately lower risk of developing ovarian cancer.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight: Being overweight or obese may raise the risk of developing ovarian cancer.
  • Not using hormone replacement therapy after menopause: Some data suggests that people who use estrogen or a combination of estrogen and progesterone after menopause may have an elevated risk of ovarian cancer compared with those who haven’t used hormone replacement therapy.

Oral contraceptives

Taking birth control pills may reduce ovarian cancer risk, both for people with an average risk and those who carry the BRCA gene mutation, which increases risk of ovarian cancer and breast cancer. The American Cancer Society (ACS) notes that using birth control pills for at least five years (as opposed to never) reduces ovarian cancer risk by about 50 percent.

However, birth control pills may slightly raise the risk for breast cancer both for people with an average risk and those who carry the BRCA mutation. Oral contraceptives also have other risks and side effects. Women should ask their doctor about the personal risks and benefits of oral contraceptives.

Tubal ligation and hysterectomy

Tubal ligation (a procedure sometimes called “getting your tubes tied”) blocks or cuts the fallopian tubes, while a hysterectomy removes the uterus with or without the cervix. Having both a tubal ligation and a hysterectomy may lower the risk of certain ovarian cancers, but these procedures are not recommended solely to reduce the risk of ovarian cancer unless indicated due to hereditary mutations.

Someone with a family history of breast or ovarian cancer who needs a hysterectomy for another medical reason may consider having both the ovaries and fallopian tubes removed. This is called a bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy. Removing the ovaries will bring on menopause, so it’s a decision that should be discussed and made along with the doctor and care team.

Women at an average risk of ovarian cancer who don’t want to have their ovaries removed may consider having the fallopian tubes and uterus removed. Removal of the fallopian tubes is called a bilateral salpingectomy. The ovaries may be removed later if the patient chooses to do so. Again, this option should be discussed with a medical provider to determine an appropriate, individualized decision and plan.

Prevention in people with an increased risk

If a woman has an increased risk of ovarian cancer due to family history or presence of the BRCA mutation, there are a few things to consider.

Genetic counseling and testing may be good options to review personal medical and family history. Genetic counselors may help people understand the pros and cons of genetic testing, and genetic testing may help determine the presence of certain gene mutation(s) that increase the risk of ovarian cancer. Knowing that someone has a gene mutation may help her make decisions about prevention strategies.

Prophylactic surgery is a procedure performed to prevent a condition. For people with a high risk of ovarian cancer, doctors may recommend a bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy as a risk-reducing strategy to prevent ovarian cancer. This type of surgery is typically performed once the woman is finished having children, and it does bring on instant menopause.

Although a bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy may lower ovarian cancer risk, it does not get rid of it entirely. Small cancers may already be present at the time of surgery and are only found once the fallopian tubes and ovaries are removed. The lining of the abdominal wall, called the peritoneum, also may still develop cancer, though the risk is low (less than 5 percent) since this lining has the same embryologic cells as the tubes and ovaries.

According to the ACS, premenopausal people who have BRCA mutations may lower their breast cancer risk by more than 50 percent and their ovarian cancer risk by 85 to 95 percent if they have their tubes and ovaries removed.

People with a higher risk for ovarian cancer may decide that removal of the ovaries and fallopian tubes isn’t the appropriate decision for them. This decision should be made after the patient has a thorough discussion with the medical team, and in such cases, doctors advise having regular and early screening tests for ovarian cancer.

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