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Ovarian Cancer: Who is at Risk?
By Sandra Ray, Staff Writer

(Page 2 of 2)

The use of fertility drugs has also been linked to an increase in ovarian cancer. The jury is still out on this risk factor, however. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh failed to find a link between fertility treatments and ovarian cancer development. These researchers, instead, claim that one of the underlying causes of infertility (namely endometriosis) is the actual reason for the ovarian cancer, not the fertility treatment. With this in mind, women who are either considering fertility drugs or who have already begun taking them should discuss this risk with their personal physician to find out the best advice for their overall health.

Age is a factor that a woman cannot escape. While there are many younger women who are diagnosed with ovarian cancer who do not exhibit any of the risk factors, there is little denying the fact that women over age 50 are diagnosed at higher rates than younger women. A woman past menopause has a greater probability of being diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and the American Cancer Society reports that half of the women diagnosed are over age 63.

Finally, a womanís personal reproductive history plays a role in whether or not she has a greater chance of developing ovarian cancer. The earlier a woman begins menses (before age 12), has children or has children after age 30, and starts menopause after age 50 has a great risk of ovarian cancer.

Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) has been indicated as a risk factor in some studies, but not in others. Some studies suggest that women who started taking estrogen replacement after menopause and use it long-term face a greater possibility of developing ovarian cancer. Other studies have not born this out. There are many valid reasons for taking HRT, such as decreased risk of heart disease, less risk of osteoporosis, not to mention relief from menopausal symptoms. For these reasons and others, a woman should weigh the benefits and concerns with her doctor when making the decision to use or not to use HRT. Researchers are still examining this risk in light of the benefits it brings to a womanís health profile.

Environmental Factors:

A woman using talcum powder when applied directly to the genital area or to sanitary napkins can slightly increase the risk of ovarian cancer. While not every study has found this connection, some researchers surmise that the risk associated with talcum powder was greater 20 years ago when asbestos was an ingredient in some of these powders. Modern day talcum powders do not use asbestos, thus this could explain why some researchers have not been able to firmly establish this link.

There are many women who will still develop ovarian cancer even if none of these factors are considered. As discussed previously, age itself is a factor and one that no woman can prevent. Caregivers should discuss the above-mentioned risks with their loved ones and with family physicians to find out whether more testing is warranted.

The National Ovarian Cancer Coalition ( uses this slogan: Ovarian CancerÖit whispers, so listen. Paying attention to a womanís body development and health concerns can do more to diagnose ovarian cancer in the earliest stages than can testing and attention to risk factors. When diagnosed and treated earlier, a woman has better than 90 percent chance of surviving ovarian cancer after 5 years. If the disease isnít caught until its later stages, the survival rate can drop to as low as 29 percent. Caregivers play an important role in encouraging women to seek treatment early, no matter what risk factors may or may not be involved.


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