Ovarian cancer only accounts for about 3 percent of all cancers affecting women in the United States — but it’s the leading cause of gynecological cancer deaths each year according to the Centers for Disease Control. And while there’s no way to guarantee prevention, there are lifestyle changes that may reduce your risk of ovarian cancer.
It’s estimated that about 1 in 70 women will develop ovarian cancer in their lifetime and 1 in 100 will die from the illness, Dr. Julian Schink, chief of the division of gynecologic oncology at Cancer Treatment Centers of America, tells SheKnows, adding that about 14,000 women per year die of ovarian cancer in the United States alone.
Schink explains that while ovarian cancer can happen in younger women with a family history of the disease — or the BRCA1 and 2 genetic mutations — the illness occurs most often in women well into their 50s and beyond.
“For many years, ovarian cancer was inappropriately labeled as ‘the silent killer’; however, 90 percent of women with this disease do have symptoms,” Schink says, while he further notes that women with the BRCA1 or 2 genetic mutations “have a lifetime ovarian cancer risk of 40 and 18 percent respectively.”
According to Bright Pink, an organization dedicated to spreading awareness of breast and ovarian cancers, knowing your individual risk factors while taking steps to boost your chances of ovarian cancer prevention are key when it comes to protecting your health. Here are five powerful lifestyle changes that might help reduce your risk of ovarian cancer.
1. Quit smoking
While the reasons to quit smoking or never starting in the first place are pretty much endless, quitting smoking helps reduce the risk of some types of ovarian cancer according to the American Cancer Society. Health tips via The Winchester Hospital suggest that when we quit smoking, the body starts repairing itself right away — so even if you’ve smoked for a while, quitting is still one of the best things you could ever do for your health.
2. Eat well
What we eat can have a profound impact on our health — no doubt. And plenty of research shows that certain foods may have anticancer benefits. According to Healthline, fresh fruits and vegetables; herbs like turmeric and cinnamon; olive oil; legumes; and fatty fish may all be associated with lowered cancer risk.
And while Schink notes that studies don’t currently prove a link between diet and ovarian cancer specifically, there’s still ample evidence that eating whole foods — and lots of fruits and veggies — while slashing your intake highly processed foods can do great things for your health.
Schink notes that current research says, “The only well-established lifestyle protection against [ovarian cancer] is decreasing the number of ovarian ovulations that occur … This is accomplished by either being on birth control pills, being pregnant or breastfeeding.”
4. Avoid sugary foods & drinks
Avoiding refined sugars — like those from processed foods, desserts and sugary drinks — is a key cancer-prevention action to take, Dr. Rikki Cannioto, an assistant professor of oncology and assistant member of the department of cancer prevention and control at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, tells SheKnows.
Cannioto also encourages a veggie-centric, plant-based diet that “can help fill you up while providing nutrients.” A 2017 study published in Nature also points to important links between cancer and high sugar consumption, with the American Institute for Cancer Research recommending low-sugar diets both for cancer prevention and for those undergoing treatment.
Exercising for 30 minutes per day may help prevent ovarian cancer according to Cannioto. “Because of the evidence linking obesity with certain types of cancer, including ovarian, The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends maintaining a healthy weight throughout life to best reduce your chances of developing cancer,” she adds.
It’s important to note that since ovarian cancer can be difficult to spot in the early stages, prevention efforts are especially important according to Cannioto. And while there’s no surefire way to guarantee that we’ll never develop ovarian cancer, she stresses that staying active, keeping within a healthy weight range for your body type, eating well and avoiding a sedentary lifestyle are all powerful ways to help prevent cancer — while strengthening your body and boosting your overall health to boot.