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Ovarian Cancer FAQ

How can I determine if I’m at risk for ovarian cancer?

Women with a strong family history of ovarian cancer or breast cancer appearing before age 50 have an increased risk of Breast and Ovarian Cancer Family Syndrome. Having a mother, daughter or sister with the disease increases the risk of ovarian cancer threefold. The more relatives with the disease, the greater the risk.

Most familial ovarian cancer is linked to genetic mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which normally help protect against  breast and ovarian cancer. Women with inherited mutations of BRCA1 have a 40 percent to 50 percent lifetime risk of developing ovarian cancer and a nearly 80 percent chance of developing breast cancer. A mutation in the BRCA2 gene results in a 20 percent lifetime risk of ovarian cancer.

Families that carry these genes can come from any background, but the mutation rate is highest among those of Ashkenazi Jewish descent whose ancestors came from Eastern and Central Europe. Genetic testing can determine whether a woman is at increased risk of developing ovarian cancer.

A mutation in the HNPCC gene that normally protects against a type of colon cancer called hereditary nonpolyposis also raises the risk of ovarian cancer, but to a lesser degree than mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2.

What can I do if I’m a carrier of mutations in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes?

Women known to be at high risk for ovarian cancer may be good candidates for preventive removal of their Fallopian tubes and ovaries.

This procedure can nearly always be performed with minimally invasive surgery. However, women who want to preserve their fertility should explore their options before initiating treatment. 

Learn more about fertility preservation and cancer ›

Does being on fertility drugs increase the risk of ovarian cancer?

Although the fertility drugs clomiphene citrate and pergonal have been associated with ovarian cancer, more recent research suggests that these drugs do not cause ovarian cancer.

Ovarian cancer also is more common in women who begin menstruating before age 12 or who reach menopause after age 50.

Women who take birth control pills are at lower risk for ovarian cancer. The longer a woman uses birth control pills, the lower the risk. Five years of birth control pill use reduces the risk by about 50 percent.

Tubal ligation has a similar protective effect against ovarian cancer, although the mechanism is unknown.

Why is it important to see a gynecologic oncologist instead of a general surgeon?

Gynecologic oncologists are surgical specialists trained to safely perform the often extensive operations required for ovarian, uterine, cervical, vaginal and vulvar cancers.

An experienced gynecologic oncologist is significantly more likely to perform the necessary cytoreductive surgery and remove all or most of the disease than are other surgical specialists (for example, general obstetrician/gynecologists and general surgeons), with a resulting improvement in survival outcome. 

In addition, medical centers with a high volume of gynecologic cancer surgeries have the needed resources to ensure that the procedure is done safely and effectively. Ideally, this type of surgery should be performed by a qualified and experienced gynecologic oncologist in a tertiary medical center, such as UC Irvine Medical Center.

Tertiary medical centers are equipped to provide the most comprehensive and sophisticated care available. 

How does robot-assisted surgery work?

During a robot-assisted surgical procedure, the surgeon sits in the system console a few feet from the patient. The surgeon sees the operative field through a video monitor while several robotic arms replicate every movement of the surgeon’s hand.

The procedure requires several small, keyhole-sized incisions through which physicians place miniature surgical instruments and a tiny camera, which provides a magnified three-dimensional view of the operating site.

What are the advantages of robot-assisted surgery?

For patients, robot-assisted surgical procedures typically result in less pain and blood loss, a reduced risk of infection and faster recovery time than traditional open-incision procedures or even laparoscopic surgery.

How do I know if I am a candidate for robot-assisted procedures?

Not every patient is a candidate for robot-assisted procedures.

UCI Health gynecologic oncologists work closely with each patient to to determine which treatment options offer the best outcomes for their particular case. One option may include robot-assisted surgery.

Questions? Call the Ovarian Cancer Center at 714-456-8000.

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