A little knowledge can go a long way in helping you understand your risk for breast and ovarian cancers. Once you learn your risk for these cancers, we hope you will talk to you doctor and develop a strategy to reduce your risk or detect these diseases at early, non-life-threatening stages.
Cancer is a disease in which cells in the body grow out of control. When cancer starts in the breast, it is called breast cancer. About 7 out of 100 women (or 7%) will be diagnosed with breast cancer by the time they turn 70 years old.
Ovarian cancer is far less common. About 1 out of 100 women (or 1%) will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer by age 70. Though it is less common than breast cancer, ovarian cancer causes more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system.
About 5–10% of breast and 10-15% of ovarian cancers are hereditary. These hereditary breast and ovarian cancers are caused by inherited changes in genes such as BRCA1 and BRCA2.
While breast and ovarian cancers are most common in older women (about 89% of breast cancers occur in women older than 45 years of age), they can and do occur in younger women. There are some important differences when these cancers do affect young women:
Every woman can benefit from learning the risk factors and symptoms of breast and ovarian cancers.
If you have one or more of these factors, it does not mean you will get breast cancer. Talk to your doctor about ways to reduce your risk.
Pay attention to your body and know what is normal for you. If you have any signs that worry you, be sure to see your doctor right away.
If you have one or more of these factors, it does not mean you will get ovarian cancer. Talk to your doctor about ways to reduce your risk.
If you have:
Pay attention to your body and know what is normal for you. See a doctor if you have any of these signs for two weeks or longer and they are not normal for you.
The next time you visit the doctor, consider talking about what you have learned about breast and ovarian cancers.
Be sure to tell your doctor about your family history of cancer (especially breast, ovarian, fallopian tube, pancreatic, and prostate cancers) and about any other risk factors you may have.
If you need help collecting and organizing your family health history, use the U.S. Surgeon General's family health history portrait, https://familyhistory.hhs.gov/.
Together, you and your doctor can develop a personalized strategy to reduce your risk.
When cancer starts in the ovaries, it is called ovarian cancer. Women have two ovaries that are located in the pelvis, one on each side of the uterus. The ovaries make female hormones and produce eggs.
Sometimes ovarian cells become abnormal. These abnormal cells grow, divide, and create new cells that the body does not need. The extra cells form a mass called a tumor. Tumors that are not cancer are called "benign". These tumors do not spread beyond the ovaries.
Other tumors are "malignant" and are cancer. When ovarian cancer first starts to develop, these tumors are generally too small to feel or notice. As they grow, the cancer can spread to other parts of the body. This causes serious health problems and even death.
There are different kinds of ovarian cancer. The kind of cancer depends on where in the ovaries the cancer developed. For a more detailed explanation of what ovarian cancer is and the different types of ovarian cancer visit: National Cancer Institute Ovarian Cancer or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Ovarian Cancer.
Ovarian cancer may cause you to experience one or more of these signs and symptoms:
Pay attention to your body, and know what is normal for you. If you have vaginal bleeding that is not normal for you, see a doctor right away. Also see a doctor if you have any of the other signs for two weeks or longer and they are not normal for you. These symptoms may be caused by something other than cancer, but the only way to know is to see a doctor. The earlier ovarian cancer is found and treated, the more likely treatment will be effective.
Yes, young women can get ovarian cancer, though generally women get ovarian cancer later in life.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Program of Cancer Registries (NPCR) provides statistics on cancer cases in the United States (https://nccd.cdc.gov/uscs/). The CDC reports that in 2010, there were 19,959 new cases of ovarian cancer in women. Of these new cases, 2,209 (about 11%) were in women younger than 45 years of age. Though it is rare, the possibility of ovarian cancer should not be ignored just because a woman is young.
Yes. Most women who get ovarian cancer do not have family members who have had the disease.
There is no simple and reliable way to screen for ovarian cancer in women who do not have any signs or symptoms.
Here is what you can do:
Researchers have not yet discovered the exact causes of ovarian and breast cancers, even though they know some of the risk factors that show up in women who get these kinds of cancers. This means that researchers do not know how to completely prevent ovarian or breast cancer, but they do know ways you can reduce your risk of these kinds of cancers.
Be your own health advocate. Choose healthy lifestyle behaviors, be aware of your body, notice changes, and seek good medical care to give yourself the best chance for a long healthy life.