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Reducing Your Risk of Ovarian Cancer

A risk factor is something that increases your chances of developing cancer. Some risk factors such as family history or genetics cannot be changed. Fortunately, there are also risk factors which can be modified.

General Guidelines for All Women

There are no specific guidelines to prevent ovarian cancer because the cause is unknown. There are factors that can be modified to reduce your risk of cancer. These include:

  • Quitting smokingSmoking negatively affects every cell in the body. Quitting smoking is an important step in preventing cancer. The sooner smoking is stopped, the sooner the body can start to heal. Talk to your doctor about the options available to help you successfully quit.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight—Eat a low-fat diet that includes lots of fruits and vegetables. If you are overweight, talk to a registered dietitian who can help you lose and maintain weight safely.
  • Regular exercise—Regular exercise is good for overall health, wellness and maintaining a healthy weight. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate exercise (which can be a brisk walking) on most days of the week. If you currently do not exercise, talk to your doctor about how to get started on a program safely.
  • Prophylactic surgery—Recommended for women who need a hysterectomy for any reason not related to cancer. Removing both fallopian tubes may help prevent ovarian cancer regardless of genetic risk.

The following factors are associated with reduced ovarian cancer risk:

  • Having children
  • Breastfeeding
  • Long-term oral contraceptive use
  • History of gynecologic surgery, such as a hysterectomy or tubal ligation
  • Regular use of aspirin

It is important to note that these methods will not work for everyone. Some methods also carry serious risks that may outweigh the long-term benefits. Talk to your doctor about your overall risk of ovarian cancer to determine if these would be helpful for you.

General Guidelines for Women at High Risk

Certain factors increase the risk for ovarian cancer. The following groups have a higher risk:

If you are in a high risk group, in addition to guidelines above, your doctor may recommend:

  • Genetic testing—To assess risk based on any genetic mutations.
  • Bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy to remove both ovaries and fallopian tubes. This is recommended in women aged 35 years or older who are done having children and carry a genetic risk of ovarian cancer.

Revision Information

  • American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, ACOG Committee on Practice Bulletins—Gynecology, ACOG Committee on Genetics, Society of Gynecologic Oncologists. ACOG Practice Bulletin No. 103: Hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome. Obstet Gynecol. 2009;113(4):957-966. Reaffirmed 2015.

  • Ovarian cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003130-pdf.pdf. Accessed November 8, 2016.

  • Ovarian cancer. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T900705/Ovarian-cancer. Updated November 2, 2016. Accessed November 8, 2016.

  • Ovarian cancer. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/gynecology-and-obstetrics/gynecologic-tumors/ovarian-cancer. Updated May 2013. Accessed November 8, 2016.

  • 2/4/2015 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T900705/Ovarian-cancer: Trabert B, Ness, RB, Lo-Ciganic WH. Aspirin, nonaspirin nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, and acetaminophen use and risk of invasive epithelial ovarian cancer: a pooled analysis in the Ovarian Cancer Association Consortium. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2014;106(2):djt431.