Ovarian cancer is significantly more rare than breast cancer, but is often found at a later stage where the prognosis may not be as good and can be more difficult to treat. The average risk for ovarian cancer is 1 in 70 in your lifetime which equates to 1.4%. This type of cancer has long been termed the silent killer because it is falsely believed to be a disease without warning signs. Research confirms that many women experience symptoms several months before they are diagnosed. These symptoms can be subtle and easily ignored. Symptoms are particularly significant if they’re new, occur frequently, and last for more than two weeks.
There is a correlation between what we normally call “the breast cancer genes” BRCA1 and BRCA2 and ovarian cancer. Not only do these two mutations increase risk of breast cancer, but they also increase the risk of ovarian cancer, particularly in younger women.
What about someone who is above average, someone who’s risk is higher? For these women the statistic above is no longer relevant. They do not fall in the 1 in 70 category. But how do we know the difference between average or high risk? A genetic pre-disposition for ovarian cancer increases your risk substantially, but is considered rare. Inherited genetic changes called mutations cause about 12% of ovarian cancers. These genetic mutations are referred to as BRCA1 and BRCA2, which run in families and are passed down from generation to generation by either the mother or father.
More than one relative on the same side of the family with;
If you see any of these patterns in your family, we highly encourage you to discuss your family history with your doctor. Talk to a genetic counselor, they will analyze your family history and can recommend the best ways to monitor your health. Genetic counseling is a great option and is available to everyone. It does not automatically mean you need to get tested for the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes. The counselors specialize in risk and are a great place to start understanding your family history and what you should watch out for.
Lifetime breast and ovarian cancer risk as a percentage
Most ovarian cancers are not hereditary and a large percentage of cases are sporadic with no known cause/link
If you are at a higher risk, there are steps you can take to be proactive and ways to reduce your odds. Researchers are just beginning to scratch the surface related to environmental factors and food choices that may increase individual risk. Learn ways to be proactive and live healthy here. Start asking questions and really understand the statistics related to ovarian cancer.
The American Cancer Society released the estimated number of new cases and deaths in the US for 2013.
Unless otherwise cited, statistics and other information were provided by A Johns Hopkins Press Health Book – Confronting Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer, identify your risk, understand your options, change your destiny – published 2012.