September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month: Give Attention to Your Ovaries

By Kelsey Rolfe — September 13, 2017

We all know that in October, we have to ‘Save the Tatas’. Even the NFL dons pink shoes, towels, and gloves. Goodness only knows how deep their pink streak goes! Yet there are other forms of cancer that, though not as common, represent a significant health concern and deserve just as much recognition and awareness!

So whip out your teal Ladies. September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month!

The good news is ovarian cancer is rare. The not-so-good-news is it remains one of the deadliest women’s cancers. Why? Because the lack of effective screenings makes early detection challenging. This is one of many reasons why raising awareness and educating women on ovarian cancer is so important.

The background risk for a woman to develop ovarian cancer in her lifetime is 1.3%. That’s 1 in 75 women. So, while it’s not as common as something like breast cancer, it isn’t nonexistent either.

In 2017, it is estimated that approximately 22,400 women in the United States will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Less than 50% of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer will survive 5 years from their diagnosis. To put this in perspective, nearly 90% of women diagnosed with breast cancer will survive 5 years from diagnosis.

As with all cancers, the chance to develop ovarian cancer increases with age. Ovarian cancer rates are highest in women aged 55 – 64 with the median age of diagnosis being 63. Additional risk factors include obesity, infertility, a personal history of breast cancer, and a family history of ovarian cancer.

But wait! There are also factors that are known to decrease a woman’s chance for ovarian cancer. These include a history of tubal ligation or a hysterectomy, having multiple full-term pregnancies prior to the age of 35, breastfeeding, and use of oral contraceptives for at least 5 years.

As always, it’s best to discuss these factors with your physician in the context of your own personal and family health history.

Approximately 10 – 20% of all ovarian cancer diagnoses are hereditary. Hereditary cancers occur when an individual is born with a change, called a variant, in a gene that significantly predisposes them to develop certain types of cancer over their lifetime. These variants can be inherited from one’s parents and passed onto one’s children.

There are specific features we look for when determining if a family may or may not be at-risk for a hereditary cancer. These include:

  • Early onset diagnoses for more common cancers (early onset is typically considered under the age of 50)
  • Presence of rare cancers (e.g. ovarian and/or male breast; can be diagnosed at any age)
  • Multiple relatives affected with the same (or known to be linked) cancers across multiple generations.
  • Multiple primary cancer diagnoses in an individual
  • Cancer occurring in both of a pair of organs (i.e. bilateral cancer, such as breast cancer in both breasts)

Thus, knowing your family health history is important. These are simple words with potentially life changing effects. So this Thanksgiving, grab your Aunt Ezzy (or whomever the knower of all things is in your family) and start taking notes.

While CooperGenomics does not offer testing for individuals to determine their risk for hereditary cancer, we do offer preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) for those who already know they are at increased risk. PGD is a genetic test performed on IVF embryos to help reduce the risk of passing a genetic condition or genetic predisposition onto one’s children. You can learn more about PGD here and here.

If your family history contains any of the features noted above, even if you have just one first or second-degree relative with ovarian cancer, a referral to a cancer genetic counselor may be useful for a personalized risk assessment. A comprehensive list of local licensed and/or certified genetic counselors is available at

For further information about ovarian cancer, please visit the American Cancer Society and/or the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition.