September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month
What is Your Risk for Ovarian Cancer?
Nearly any health risk can be managed with education, an understanding of the risk factors, and proactive management. Cancer, while seemingly random, is no exception. While it is not possible to ever guarantee that someone will never contract a certain type of cancer, it is certainly possible to recognize and minimize your risk of exposure. For example, you may remember the high-profile case of Angelina Jolie, who underwent a preventative double mastectomy and removal of her ovaries and fallopian tubes as a preventative measure for her abnormally high risk of contracting breast and ovarian cancer. Jolie had an extraordinarily high risk factor for these cancers due to a mutated BRAC1 gene, which have her 87% chance of developing breast cancer and a 50% chance of developing ovarian cancer.
Most of the time, much less drastic measures are necessary to manage your risk of ovarian cancer. As with so many aspects of our health, diet and level of physical activity can play a big role. Anyone with an increased risk factor should get a thorough understanding of how exercise can help people prevent and recover from cancer.
The Risk Factors
First, we should define what a “risk factor” is. According to a one cancer resource, “A risk factor is anything that increases a person’s chance of developing cancer. Although risk factors often influence the development of cancer, most do not directly cause cancer. Some people with several risk factors never develop cancer, while others with no known risk factors do. However, knowing your risk factors and talking about them with your doctor may help you make more informed lifestyle and health care choices.”
This is important to keep in mind while informing yourself about the risk factors. Common risk factors for ovarian cancer, according to a Cancer Treatment Centers of America resource, include:
- Age: Two-thirds of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer are 55 or older.
- Family history: Women with a mother, sister, grandmother, or aunt who has had ovarian cancer have a higher risk of developing the disease.
- Genetic mutations: A minority of cases of ovarian cancer can be attributed to an inherited mutation on one of two genes called breast cancer gene 1 (BRCA1) and breast cancer gene 2 (BRCA2). Women with the BRCA1 mutation have a 35 to 70 percent higher risk of ovarian cancer. Women with the BRCA2 mutation have a 10 to 30 percent higher risk. You can request to be tested for both BRCA mutations with your OB-GYN or a gynecologic oncologist.
- Lynch syndrome and Peutz-Jeghers syndrome: Women with these inherited genetic disorders have a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer. Lynch syndrome is characterized by a higher risk of cancers of the digestive tract, gynecologic tract and other organs. Peutz-Jeghers syndrome indicates an increased risk of developing polyps in the digestive tract and several types of cancer, including in the breast, colon, rectum, pancreas, stomach, testicles, ovaries, lungs and cervix.
- Previous conditions: Women who have been diagnosed with breast, colorectal or endometrial cancer have a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer.
The good news is, there are also factors that can lower your risk of ovarian cancer:
- Childbearing status: Women who have delivered at least one child, especially before age 30, are at a lower risk of developing the disease. The more children a woman has, the more her ovarian cancer risk declines. Women who breastfeed further reduce their risk.
- Birth control: Women who have used oral contraceptives for at least three months are at a lower risk of ovarian cancer. The risk is lower the longer the contraceptives are taken. The lower risk continues for many years after contraceptives are stopped.
- Gynecologic surgery: A tubal ligation (tying the fallopian tubes) or hysterectomy (removing the uterus but not the ovaries) reduces the risk of developing ovarian cancer.
Can Exercise Help?
While exercising can never eliminate your risk of major health issues, having a strong and fit body can absolutely make the prevention and recovery stages easier. If you don’t do any kind of regular exercise, adding a strength training program with a qualified trainer might be the perfect step to getting proactive with your health.
Steve Morrison works has been a client of Vertex Fitness for over a decade, and he’s a survivor of prostate cancer. After Steve underwent surgery to remove his cancer, he recovered in record time. His doctor’s opinion was that the time he had spent at Vertex Fitness was a major factor in his ability to bounce back so quickly. Beginning with a strong, fit body can give your body a huge advantage in its ability to recover and repair itself. According to Steve, “My doctors said my recuperation was absolutely linear to the fact that I was in good shape and that I had a strong core, and that I was doing exercises that were very conducive to recuperating from that surgery.”
Unbelievably, Steve returned to work three days after the surgery, and was up and walking within a few hours of the procedure. As Steve concludes, “I was definitely a beneficiary of the years of working out at Vertex and working out through Dwayne’s method. I’m 58 right now and I’m in pretty damn good shape. Vertex has been my main method of working out for over 14 years.”
To understand and manage your risks for ovarian cancer, it’s important to talk to your doctor about your risk factors, get the necessary screenings, and participate in an exercise program that will increase your body’s strength and ability to heal itself.