Ovarian cancer: how to reduce your risk

Ovarian cancer is often called a “silent killer” – so it’s important to be aware of its symptoms and how you can reduce your risk of developing it.

Nutrition and weight are important factors when it comes to your likelihood of developing cancer. Ahmed Raafat, Consultant Gynaecologist and Minimal Access Surgeon at BMI Healthcare, believes that women who are overweight should consider losing weight in order to reduce their cancer risk.

Prevalence of cancer

New research shows that cancer cases in women are rising six times faster than in men. According to Cancer Research UK, unhealthy lifestyles are causing more incidences of cancer in both men and women. However, the increase is more considerable in women.

Ovarian cancer

Ovarian cancer is the fifth most common cancer in women and represents a growing threat. At the moment, 1-2% of women will have cancer affecting one or both of their ovaries in their lifetime. In the early stages of ovarian cancer, patients may not have any symptoms. However, in the later stages, symptoms may include: 

Ovarian cancer
  • Unexplained weight loss or gain 
  • Persistent abdominal bloating or pain 
  • Feeling full early while eating 
  • Poor appetite 
  • Increased abdominal girth 
  • Pressure on the bladder 
  • Pressure on the bowels 
It’s vital to be aware of the possible symptoms of ovarian cancer. If you experience new abdominal or pelvic symptoms that persist for several weeks or feel unusual to you, you need to inform your doctor. This is especially important for women over 50 years old or those who have a family history of cancer, especially breast or ovarian cancer.

Ovarian cancer and obesity

In the early stages of ovarian cancer, the usual or obvious symptoms that can occur with other diseases may be absent or very difficult to identify. The symptoms can often appear at a much later stage, but this is after the cancer has progressed already and is more difficult to treat. 

This means that awareness of the disease is very important in helping reduce your risk of developing ovarian cancer – as are preventative lifestyle changes.Research indicates that obesity contributes to and promotes the spread of ovarian cancer development through a hormonal mechanism. It’s clear that greater awareness of this link is needed for better disease prevention.

How to lose weight

Women working out

Diet is responsible for about 70-80% of weight loss and so it should be your main focus if you’re trying to reduce your body fat. Eating fresh fruit and vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains will help you to lose weight. 

As will limiting highly processed foods that are high in sugar, as well as juices and fizzy drinks.In combination with improvements to your diet, taking regular exercise will also help reduce your calorific consumption by burning calories while you exercise.

Occasionally, taking medication on the advice of your doctor can also help, and in some cases weight loss surgery is another option to achieve weight reduction. 

Mr Rafaat also highlighted the importance of encouraging better diet and nutrition from an early age to prevent cancer developing in later years, saying: “Ultimately the fight against obesity needs to start earlier – education around nutrition, diet and exercise on the whole scope of health outcomes needs to begin in the early school years. Solving the obesity problem can effectively minimise its long term effects on the health of teenagers and adults in the future, including the risks of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and multiple types of cancers.”

With no national screening programme in place, it's even more important that you make sure that you're ovarian cancer aware and understand the symptoms.

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