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What can I do to reduce my risks of gynecologic cancers?

Several factors such as age, race, family and personal history, obstetric and menstrual history, and use of oral contraceptives or hormone replacement therapy may impact a woman’s cancer risk. Additionally, lifestyle recommendations such as not smoking, managing weight, exercising, reducing stress, maintaining a healthy diet, limiting alcohol and prioritizing quality sleep may reduce your risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer.

Cervical cancer is caused by the human papillomavirus. HPV is preventable with a HPV vaccine, which is recommended for everyone younger than 26-years-old, and approved for everyone through age 45. If you are over 26-years-old and are not vaccinated, talk with your doctor about possible vaccination benefits. Cervical cancer is screened for by a Pap smear and/or HPV testing, which is usually done at your OB/GYN visit.

Approximately 75-80% of ovarian cancer cases are sporadic (with no known cause). The other 20-25% are hereditary (caused by a gene inherited from either parent). Women who have never had children or breast fed can have an increased risk of a mutation developing on the surface of the ovary which can lead to ovarian cancer. Minimizing the number of ovulatory events (through birth control or pregnancy) is protective. In fact, at least 5 years of oral contraceptive use can cut your risk of ovarian cancer in half by suppressing ovulation.

Our goal is to identify women at high-risk for breast and ovarian cancer (such as those with a strong family history) and refer them to see a genetic counselor to discuss testing. For women who are determined to be at high-risk, Hoag offers the High-risk Breast and Ovarian Cancer Prevention Program to monitor for early detection. BRCA1 and 2 are the most commonly identified mutations, but many more exist than previously thought, and most screening now involves expanded panel gene testing. Women who are carriers will receive an individualized screening plan in HBOC, which may include mammograms, breast MRIs, blood tests, and pelvic ultrasound surveillance, in addition to close monitoring with our physicians and providers.

By Lisa Abaid, M.D.