How does pregnancy affect ovarian cancer risk?

Barbara A. Goff, MD
Gynecologic Oncology

Historically ovarian cancer was thought to be a silent killer and not thought to cause any symptoms until there was no chance of cure. Our research team at the University of Washington actually revealed that the vast majority of women with ovarian cancer do have recognizable symptoms prior to diagnosis, even those with early stage disease when chance of cure is excellent. These symptoms can be vague and often confused with other diseases. The most important symptoms to look for are:

  • boating or increased abdominal size,
  • difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
  • abdominal or pelvic pain
  • urinary symptoms

As you can see these are symptoms that we all have from time to time but what makes these symptoms concerning for ovarian cancer is when they  are new symptoms, they occur daily or every other day and they have persisted for 2-3 weeks. If you have this pattern of symptoms it is very important to talk to you doctor. In general you should get a pelvic exam including a rectovaginal exam, a transvaginal ultrasound to evaluate the ovaries and a blood test called a CA125.

Jean A. Hurteau, MD
OBGYN (Obstetrics & Gynecology)
Childbearing has a protective effect against ovarian cancer. This is due to the female hormone progesterone which is thought to shed abnormal cells from the ovarian surface. Even if women have not had any children, it does not mean that they will develop ovarian cancer.
Diljeet K. Singh, MD
Gynecologic Oncology

Being pregnant decreases your risk of ovarian cancer, and multiple pregnancies and breastfeeding decrease risk even further. Watch gynecologic oncologist Diljeet Singh, MD, discuss why pregnancy provides increased protection from ovarian cancer.

Pregnancy is actually considered to be "protective," or will lower your risk of ovarian cancer. Once a woman enters puberty and her ovaries start making eggs, typically each 28 days (for an average woman), her ovaries go through the process of readying and releasing an egg. When you've had one or more pregnancies, that's been at least a nine-month break for the ovaries from creating an egg, which just lowers the possibility of something in that process going wrong and creating a cancer.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.