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Ovarian cancer prevention

There's currently nothing that can be done to prevent ovarian cancer. However, there are some things that are thought to protect against ovarian cancer. These are called 'protective factors'. Women with protective factors may still develop ovarian cancer.

Research has shown that the following are associated with a reduced risk of certain types of ovarian cancer:

  • removal of the uterus (womb)
  • removal of the ovaries and having the fallopian tubes tied
  • having children
  • using oral contraceptives.

Screening for ovarian cancer

At present, there is no method of screening for ovarian cancer that is reliable enough to be used by all women in Australia. Clinical trials into this are continuing.

Women may be eligible for screening if they are at high risk of developing the disease because of a strong family history or they have inherited a particular abnormal gene.

If you are at high risk, your doctor can refer you to your local genetics service or family cancer clinic. You may be screened for ovarian cancer once you are over the age of 35, or once you are five years away from the age at which your youngest relative was diagnosed with the condition. From this point, you will be screened again once a year.

The screening tests for ovarian cancer are the same as those that are routinely used to diagnose it. The tests are:

  • a blood test for higher-than-normal levels of CA125 (a chemical produced by cancer cells)
  • a transvaginal ultrasound, in which the ultrasound probe is inserted into your vagina to show the size and texture of your ovaries, as well as any cysts that may be present.

The tests are used together in order to produce results that are as accurate as possible. However, as these screening methods are still in the process of being tested, they cannot guarantee that they will identify every case of ovarian cancer.

A cervical screening test (Pap test) cannot detect ovarian cancer.

Sources: NHS Choices, UK (Ovarian cancer - Prevention), Ovarian Cancer Australia (Treatment & Support)

Last reviewed: August 2015

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