Ovarian Cancer: What Causes it and How to Reduce Risks
Ovarian cancer develops when cells in the ovaries mutate and start growing abnormally. Eventually, the cells multiply at a rapid rate and form a tumor. Depending on the type and stage of the disease, cancerous cells are found inside, near or on the outer layer of the ovaries. Ovarian cancer can spread to the rest of the reproductive organs and other parts of the body if not treated early on.
Ovarian cancer ranks fifth in cancer deaths among women. In fact, the American Cancer Society estimates that in 2019 about 22,530 women will receive a new diagnosis of ovarian cancer in the United States and about 13,980 women will die from ovarian cancer.
Research on ovarian cancer continues in an effort to identify which genetic mutations are responsible for causing cancer. Although the cause of ovarian cancer has not been determined, there are some factors that increase a woman’s risk of developing the disease.
Types of Ovarian Cancer
Ovaries are small almond-shaped organs located on each side of the uterus. The ovaries store eggs or germ cells and produce female hormones estrogen and progesterone. Three kinds of cells make up the ovaries. Each of these cells can develop a different type of tumor. The type of cell where the cancer begins will determine the type of ovarian cancer developed. Ovarian cancer types include:
Epithelial tumors, which start in the thin layer of tissue that covers the outside of the ovaries. An estimated 90 percent of ovarian cancers are epithelial tumors. Almost 70 percent of women with this type of cancer do not receive a diagnosis until the disease is in an advanced stage.
Stromal tumors, which account for about 7 percent of ovarian tumors. They begin in the ovarian tissue that contains hormone-producing cells. Stromal tumors usually receive an earlier stage diagnosis compared to other ovarian tumors.
Germ cell tumors, which are rare ovarian cancers that tend to occur in teenage girls or young women. Germ cell tumors begin in the egg-producing cells. These types of tumors are cured and fertility is preserved in 90 percent of patients who receive this diagnosis.
Ovarian Cancer Risk Factors
A woman’s risk of developing ovarian cancer during her lifetime is about 1 in 78. Doctors are still researching to determine what causes ovarian cancer to form. However, there are known risk factors that can increase a woman’s chances of developing this type of cancer. These factors include:
Gene mutations inherited from your mother or father such as BRCA1 and BRCA2 significantly raise your risk of ovarian cancer. If you have an Eastern, European or Ashkenazi Jewish background, your risk for these mutations is higher.
Ovarian cancer can be hereditary. Your risk of developing ovarian cancer increases if your mother, sister, or daughter has or has had ovarian cancer. The more relatives you have with ovarian cancer, the higher your risk will be.
Family Cancer Syndrome
In other cases, an inherited mutation (change) in certain genes that causes a family cancer syndrome increases the risk of ovarian cancer. A family history of any of the following cancers may indicate an increased risk of ovarian cancer:
- Breast cancer
- Colon cancer
- Uterine cancer
- Rectal cancer
Many women diagnosed with ovarian cancer have no family history of the disease. Instead, these women have a history of using talcum powder as part of their feminine hygiene routine. These women are at an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer. Research shows that when applied to the genital area, sanitary napkins or condoms, particles of talcum powder can travel through the vagina, uterus and fallopian tubes and into the ovaries. When these particles embed in the ovary walls, they can cause inflammation and increase the risk of ovarian cancer.
A woman’s reproductive history may play a role in the chances of developing ovarian cancer. Such factors include:
- Started menstrual cycle before the age of 12
- Gave birth to a first child after age 30 or not having a full-term pregnancy
- Infertility and using fertility treatment
- Experienced menopause after 55
- Has never taken oral contraceptives
The risk of developing ovarian cancer increases with age and most ovarian cancers develop after menopause. In fact, 50 percent of all ovarian cancers are found in women 63 years of age or older and is rare in women under the age of 40.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that in the United States, white women have the highest risk of ovarian cancer followed by Hispanic women.
Although the current information available for ovarian cancer risk and obesity is not clear, having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more may increase the risk of developing ovarian cancer. Obesity also has an effect on the overall survival of a woman who has developed ovarian cancer.
If you have one or more risk factors for ovarian cancer, don’t immediately think the worst. Although your chances may be higher than average, this does not indicate that you will necessarily develop the disease. It is also possible to develop ovarian cancer if you don’t have any of the known risk factors.
Reducing the Risk of Ovarian Cancer
Some women may have factors that increase their risk of ovarian cancer but all women are at risk of developing ovarian cancer. Some risk factors for ovarian breast cancer are beyond your control. However, aside from speaking to your doctor about assessing your risk of developing ovarian cancer, other risk factors may be influenced by lifestyle changes. The following factors have the potential to reduce the risk of developing ovarian cancer.
Oral contraceptive use
The use of birth control pills decreases the risk of developing ovarian cancer. Women who have taken oral contraceptives for five years or longer have a 30 to 50 percent lower risk of developing ovarian cancer than woman who have never taken them. Talk to your doctor about the benefits of taking birth control pills and if it is the right decision for you.
Pregnancy and breastfeeding
Multiple pregnancies or having a first full-term pregnancy before the age of 30 decreases the risk of ovarian cancer because women do not ovulate during pregnancy. This is also true when breastfeeding. In addition, the longer a woman breastfeeds, the lower her risk of developing ovarian cancer.
Alternatives to using talcum powder
To avoid having a 20 to 30 percent greater risk of developing ovarian cancer by using talcum powder, use alternatives such as cornstarch, arrowroot starch or baking soda.
Women who have had a hysterectomy have demonstrated a reduced risk in developing ovarian cancer. This type of surgery should only take place if the patient has valid medical reasons, not for its effect on ovarian cancer risk.
Maintaining a healthy diet and exercise
The American Cancer Society recommends staying active and eating right to maintain a healthy weight. Both of which are important to reduce the risk of cancer and other diseases.
Ovarian Cancer Symptoms
It is recommended that if you notice any of the following symptoms for longer than two weeks, you should seek medical attention because ovarian cancer symptoms do not go away.
- Frequent bloating
- Feeling full quickly when eating
- Difficulty eating
- Frequent and urgent needs to urinate
- Lower back pain
- Pain or discomfort in the abdomen or pelvis
- A change in the menstrual cycle
- Weight gain or weight loss
- Back pain that worsens
Talcum Powder Link to Ovarian Cancer in the News
Researchers discovered the link between applying talcum powder to female genitals and an increased risk in ovarian cancer. For decades, Johnson & Johnson knew of this information but failed to disclose it to millions of consumers. The company is now facing thousands of lawsuits alleging their cancer diagnosis is linked to the brand’s popular baby powder.
In July of 2018, a jury ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $4.7 billion dollars to 22 plaintiffs who developed ovarian cancer after using the product. This year could be even worse for Johnson & Johnson. The company has at least 21 trials on court calendars and faces more than 11,700 claims. This can total more than $20 billion dollars in settlements.
How The Carlson Law Firm Can Help
If you or a loved one used talcum powder in your daily hygiene routine and received an ovarian or fallopian tube cancer diagnosis you may be entitled to compensation. The Carlson Law Firm has a team dedicated to protecting the rights of injured victims and their families. Let our compassionate Talcum Powder Cancer Lawsuit Attorneys evaluate your case and navigate you through the complex process that lies ahead. Contact us today for a free no-obligation consultation. We care, we can help.
- Written by Adriana Torres