When it comes to ovarian cancer, what the world is looking for is a way to decrease ovarian cancer deaths.

As it is often the case in trying to solve a health problem, a single approach is not enough.  We already have several ways of preventing women from ever getting ovarian cancer.  But what the world seems to be looking for and which will probably be rewarded with a Nobel Prize, is a test to diagnose ovarian cancer early. NONE EXISTS TODAY.  But ways to prevent ovarian cancer do exist today!  And of course, when we do prevent ovarian cancer from ever happening we do lower ovarian cancer deaths.

So what can be done to decrease a woman’s risk for ovarian cancer now, in 2013?

  1. A woman may use contraceptives that primarily work by suppressing ovulation.  Pills, patches, rings, Nexplanon implants and Depo-Provera injections all markedly suppress ovulation reducing a woman’s risk for ovarian cancer.  A British physician/epidemiologist calls ovarian cancer a disease of “incessant ovulators”.  Birth control pills taken for a total of 10 years diminish by 80% a woman’s risk of developing ovarian cancer and the protective effect persists for 30 years after she stops taking pills. AWESOME!!!
  2. If a woman has tubal sterilization done, the part of the fallopian tubes closest to the ovaries may be removed since it is now known that changes in the cells of the delicate parts of the fallopian tubes that reach out over the ovaries is where the cancer we have come to call “ovarian cancer” begins.  Similarly, if a woman has a hysterectomy (most often done for women in their 40’s and early 50’s the parts of the fallopian tubes in close proximity to the ovaries can be removed). These two surgical interventions are new.  Both can prevent ovarian cancer from ever happening.
  3. A woman’s genetic predisposition to breast and ovarian cancer can be detected by an expensive test. This is the test that was positive for movie star, Angelina Jolie, leading to removal of her breasts (and reconstructive surgery) earlier this year).  People discussing her mother’s death from breast cancer, her operations in 2013, and the likelihood of her having her ovaries removed when she approaches menopause were printing to the third way of preventing ovarian cancer deaths: removal of the ovaries in very high risk women.  That is, in women with a very high risk for developing ovarian cancer.

Take home messages for women – not just teenagers: 

  • Use of pills for10 years will lower your risk of ever developing ovarian cancer.
  • If you are going to have a tubal sterilization operation or hysterectomy, be sure your physician knows you want the ends of your fallopian tubes removed too.  Not all physicians know this.  So you tell female relatives this!