Ovarian cancer starts in a woman's ovaries and often spreads to other parts of her body. Although it can happen at any age, it's most common in women over age 50. Half of ovarian cancer cases are found in women age 63 or older, according to the American Cancer Society.
Menopause doesn't cause ovarian cancer. But your chances of developing it go up as you get older. When you go through menopause, your risk increases just because of your age.
Menopause and Cancer Risk
There are a few things related to menopause that may affect your risk of developing ovarian cancer.
If you start menopause late -- usually after age 52 -- your chances may be higher. That could be because you've had more ovulations. Those are the times when your menstrual cycle triggers your hormones to release an egg.
Taking birth control pills can temporarily stop ovulation. That can lower your chance of developing ovarian cancer. You may want to talk to your doctor. You can weigh the risks and benefits of birth control pills and your risk of cancer.
Often, women take hormone therapy to cope with menopause symptoms like hot flashes and osteoporosis. Some studies suggest that taking those hormones may increase your risk of developing ovarian cancer.
Hormone therapy usually involves taking only estrogen, estrogen plus progesterone, or estrogen and progestin, which is a fake hormone that acts like progesterone. According to the American Cancer Society, the risk appears to be higher when you take just estrogen (without progesterone) for at least 5 or 10 years.
In general, it seems that the longer you take any type of hormone therapy, the greater your chance of developing cancer. If you're considering hormone therapy to help with your menopause symptoms, talk to your doctor about benefits and risks.
Ovarian Cancer: Know What to Look For
Women often don't know they have ovarian cancer until it has spread. By then, it's often very hard to treat.
If you've been through menopause, don't ignore any kind of vaginal bleeding or spotting. If you haven't been through menopause, see your doctor if your periods are heavy, or if you bleed between periods or during sex.