Ovarian cancer is the fifth most common cancer to affect women, and is most common in women over the age of 50 who have been through menopause.  However, it can affect women of any age and new research has found a link between the faulty gene BRIP1 and ovarian cancer risk.

The Research

The study linking a faulty gene to a threefold increased of risk of developing ovarian cancer was published by the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.  Led by scientists at the Cancer Research UK, Cambridge, UCLA and the Imperial College of London, the findings were the result of a study involving a comparison of 8,000 white women of European descent; 3,250 of which had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. The rest of the study participants were made up of 3,400 women without ovarian cancer and 2,000 women who had a family history of the disease.

The study also found that those women with the faulty BRIP1 gene were more likely to be diagnosed with an aggressive form of ovarian cancer at a later stage at an older age.

Ovarian Cancer

What causes ovarian cancer is still not known. However, in light of these new clinical findings it does seem that genetics plays a large role in who does and does not develop it.

The cancer forms in the tissue of a woman’s ovaries and is diagnosed as either ovarian epithelial carcinomas or malignant germ cell tumor.  Epithelial carcinoma is cancer found on the cells on the surface of the ovary. Malignant germ cell tumors are a cancer that originates in ovarian egg cells.

Ovarian Cancer Risk Factors

While there is no known cause of ovarian cancer, here are some risk factors identified by the medical community that increase the chances of developing it:

  • Obesity – a body mass index of 30 or more.
  • Age – ovarian cancer is rare in young women and most common in women over the age of 50 who have been through menopause.
  • Reproductive history – women who have been pregnant and carried the baby to term before the age of 26 seem to have a lower ovarian cancer risk.  The risk actually decreases with each full-term. pregnancy. Women who have their first baby after the age of 35 or never carry a pregnancy to term are at a higher risk for ovarian cancer.
  • Birth Control – women who have taken oral contraceptives have a slightly lower risk of developing ovarian cancer. The decreased risk is seen after only 3 to 6 months of continued use.
  • Gynecological surgery – tubal ligation may reduce ovarian cancer risk, as does a hysterectomy (removal of uterus).
  • Fertility drugs – some fertility drugs may increase a woman’s risk of ovarian tumors.

Preventing Ovarian Cancer

There is no proven method or drug that will prevent ovarian cancer. Women with a family history of the disease, who have not taken birth control or carried a pregnancy to term or are obese, should consult their doctor about ways to reduce their ovarian cancer risk factors and perhaps be tested for the BRIP1 gene if appropriate.

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Taking birth control pills for at least three or more years, carrying a pregnancy to term before the age of 35 and breastfeeding have all been linked to a significant reduction in ovarian cancer risk.

Knowing the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer is critical for an early diagnosis.

  • Abdominal bloating
  • Abdominal pain and pressure
  • Feeling abnormally full even after a small meal
  • Trouble eating
  • Increased urination or the urge to urinate frequently
  • Fatigue
  • Indigestion and/or heartburn
  • Constipation
  • Back pain
  • Irregular menstrual cycle
  • Pain during intercourse

Treatment for Ovarian Cancer

In general, treatment for ovarian cancer involves surgery, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, targeted therapy and radiation therapy.  Usually two or more therapies are combined depending on the stage the disease is in. The sooner it is diagnosed the more effective treatment is.