Preventing ovarian cancer 

There's currently no reliable screening test for ovarian cancer. However, there are a number of things that may help to prevent ovarian cancer.

Stopping ovulation and the contraceptive pill

Each time you ovulate, your ovaries are damaged by the egg as it breaks through the surface of the ovary and is released into your reproductive system.

The cells that make up the surface of your ovaries divide and multiply rapidly to repair the damage caused by the egg. It's this rapid cell growth that can occasionally go wrong and result in ovarian cancer.

Anything that stops the process of ovulation can help to minimise your chances of developing ovarian cancer. This includes:

Diet and lifestyle

Research into ovarian cancer has found that the condition may be linked to being overweight or obese. Losing weight through regular exercise and a healthy, balanced diet may to help lower your risk of getting ovarian cancer. Aside from this, regular exercise and a healthy, low-fat diet are extremely beneficial to your overall health, and can help to prevent all forms of cancer and heart disease.

Screening for ovarian cancer

At present, there's no screening method for ovarian cancer that is reliable enough to be used by all women in the UK. Clinical trials into this are continuing.

You may be eligible for screening if you're at high risk of developing the condition due to a strong family history, or if you've inherited a specific abnormal gene.

If you're at high risk, your GP can refer you to your local genetics service or family cancer clinic. You may be screened for ovarian cancer when you're over the age of 35, or when you're five years away from the age at which your youngest relative was diagnosed with the condition. From this point, you'll be screened again once a year.

The screening tests for ovarian cancer are the same as those routinely used to diagnose it. The tests are:

  • blood test for higher-than-normal levels of CA125 (a protein produced by cancer cells)
  • a transvaginal ultrasound  where an ultrasound probe is inserted into your vagina so that the size and texture of your ovaries can be seen, as well as any ovarian cysts that may be present

The tests are used together to produce results that are as accurate as possible. However, as these screening methods are still in the process of being tested, there's no guarantee they'll identify every case of ovarian cancer.

A cervical screening test, previously known as a smear test, can't detect ovarian cancer.

Online personal education and risk assessment (OPERA)

If you're concerned about your risk of developing inherited ovarian cancer, you can use Macmillan's online interactive assessment tool, OPERA.

It's designed to be used by patients and healthcare professionals to assess a person's risk of developing the condition based on their family history of breast cancer and ovarian cancer. This is because the genes that are mainly responsible for ovarian cancer are also linked to breast cancer.

Want to know more?

Cancer Research UK: ovarian cancer screening

Page last reviewed: 21/01/2015

Next review due: 21/01/2017