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Family history of ovarian cancer - precautions?

Asked by livelaughlove21 (14586 points ) March 11th, 2014

*Sorry this is so long!

My biological father left when I was six and I haven’t seen him since, so I never knew anything about that side of my family. My mother’s side seems to have quite a few medical ailments, but never two of the same thing – my grandmother had breast cancer at the age of 70 and survived, my aunt died of cervical cancer, my great aunt died of a brain tumor, another great aunt had stomach cancer and is currently undergoing treatments, and many of the older women have problems like chronic pain and arthritis.

My biggest fear is breast cancer. I have always had sore breasts, but my anxiety goes up every time I have any sort of sensation there. Every few months, as some of you know, I have a “I’m dying of cancer” episode before I force myself to chill out (usually by going to the doctor and leaving feeling stupid that I ever went). I’m told that, since my grandmother’s breast cancer was post-menopausal, it’s not considered to be genetic. I also know most breast cancer patients have no family history, but it’s a risk factor nonetheless. I always wondered whether any women on my biological father’s side had breast cancer or died from it.

My husband and I told my mother recently that we plan on trying to conceive our first child in the next year or so. She decided to call my father’s sister and ask about their family medical history. No breast cancer, yay! However, strokes and heart disease seem to be a trend on that side and my paternal great-grandmother and aunt both died of ovarian cancer. Hopefully our kids will take from my husband’s side when it comes to medical issues. They’re all incredibly healthy and live long lives.

Now, I know what I can do to avoid problems like high blood pressure and heart disease (diet and exercise) and, if it’s unavoidable, there are medications that can be effective. However, I started to think about the ovarian cancer and realized that, unlike breast cancer, I know next to nothing about it. I looked it up and found out that only 15% of cases are diagnosed in early stages and late stage ovarian cancer has a 25% survival rate. No bueno. I also discovered that there are really no tests that can be done routinely to catch ovarian cancer early enough to treat it easily, and pap smears don’t test for that.

I’ve heard of people with strong family histories of breast cancer having their breasts removed in order to avoid the nearly inevitable diagnosis. Do people do this with their ovaries as well? Is my family history with this cancer even strong enough to consider such a thing? What precautions can I take to avoid a late stage diagnosis in the future? If I did have my ovaries removed, what effects would that have on my body? Would I need hormone replacement?

I’m not suggesting having my ovaries removed anytime soon. This is just something I’m wondering about and I’d like to see if anyone here had some input. Of course I’ll talk to my OBGYN about it, but this isn’t pressing enough to call for a visit and I won’t see him again for a few months.

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