It sneaks up on unsuspecting women with little warning and is the fourth leading cause of death in women in United States. Ovarian cancer kills more women than all gynecological cancers combined.

Despite these morbid facts, you can take steps and make lifestyle choices that lower your risk of becoming another statistic in the battle against ovarian cancer:

Motherhood. Research shows that every child a woman has reduces her risk of ovarian cancer by 10 to 15 percent, and breastfeeding reduces her overall lifetime risk.

Oral contraceptives. Birth control pills can reduce risk by 30 to 60 percent, depending on how long you take them. Oral contraceptives do pose other risks, however.

Gynecological surgery. Women who have tubal ligations and full or partial hysterectomies are less likely to get ovarian cancer. Some women who learn that they have may have a genetic predisposition to ovarian cancer may seek these surgeries to lower their risk.

Recognize early symptoms. While ovarian cancer tends to grow unnoticed, one study found that 78% of patients diagnosed with early stage ovarian cancer had three common presenting symptoms: abdominal or pelvic pain, bloating and vaginal bleeding. Ovarian cancer may also cause frequent or urgent urination, gastrointestinal distress, menstrual disorders, fatigue, backaches and pain during intercourse. The survival rate when physicians diagnose ovarian cancer before it spreads is greater than 90 percent.

Maintain your emotional health. Depression, grief and suppressing emotions can weaken your body's immune system and thus its ability to resist cancer. This is not just pop psychology. Results of a 30-year study found students who were loners, or held in their emotions, were 16 percent more likely to get cancer than those who expressed their emotions, and were more likely to have poorer outcomes. Furthermore, women who had spreading breast or ovarian cancer and meek personalities had shorter survival rates than women who were able to show their anger.

Eat a balanced diet. The research-based evidence that many cancers are preventable through diet, exercise and weight management is accumulating. Fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes such as beans are high in fiber, which cuts cancer risks, and prevent obesity (also a risk factor for cancer). These foods are chock full of vitamins, minerals and substances called phytochemicals that protect cells from damage that may cause cancer. Try to minimize foods that are processed, high in sugar and fat or low in fiber.

Don't smoke. Really. The American Association for Cancer Research reports compelling results from a study of 100,000 women who researchers tracked over 10 years: current smokers had a 60 percent greater risk of ovarian cancer, former smokers a 50 percent greater risk and long-time smokers (more than 25 years) had twice the risk of ovarian cancer than women who never smoked.


Gynecol Oncol 2001 May;81(2):337. Yadev PR