Many cancers come with the risk of recurrence. That’s when the same type of cancer comes back after you have completed treatment and gone into remission. But some cancers, such as ovarian cancer, also raise your risk for developing a different, second cancer in another part of the body later on.
Here’s what you should know about secondary cancers after ovarian cancer.
Secondary Cancer Risk After Ovarian Cancer
Fewer than 10% of women get another, different cancer after ovarian cancer, estimates suggest. A large study that tracked more than 50,000 ovarian cancer survivors for 40 years found that just over 6% of them developed a second cancer during that time. That’s about 1 in 15 ovarian cancer survivors who will face a second cancer.
After ovarian cancer, you continue to have the same risk for other cancers that anyone else does. But as an ovarian cancer survivor, you have a higher risk for certain cancers in particular. They include:
How Ovarian Cancer Raises Secondary Cancer Risk
It’s not simply having ovarian cancer that puts you at higher risk for certain other cancers later on. A number of factors related to your cancer play a part. Different factors may contribute to your risk for one type of cancer more than another.
Overlapping risk factors. Many cancers share common risk factors. If your ovarian cancer was related to one of these risks, it could raise your odds of developing another type of cancer, too.
Breast and ovarian cancer in particular share multiple risk factors in common. You have greater chances of developing either of these cancers if you:
- Are middle aged or older. Most people who get either of these cancers are over 50.
- Have a family history of breast cancer. If breast cancer runs in your family, you have an increased risk for both of these cancers.
- Have certain gene mutations, such as changes in BRCA 1 or 2, that raise risk for both of these cancers.
- Had children after age 35 or never carried a pregnancy to term.
- Used hormone replacement therapy after menopause.
Ovarian cancer shares risk factors with other cancers, too. For example, Lynch Syndrome, a gene mutation you inherit from your parents, raises your risk for not only ovarian cancer but also cancers of the colon, rectum, small intestine, and renal pelvis.
Radiation therapy. In general, this type of cancer treatment can raise risk for a secondary cancer in the area where the radiation was directed. Your exact risk for a secondary cancer after radiation depends on other factors, too. They include:
- Your age when you had radiation
- Radiation dose
- The organ and type of tissue that got radiation
- Radiation technique
- Your family history of cancer
In women who receive radiation therapy for ovarian cancer, the treatment can raise the risk for soft tissue cancers. These can develop in fat, muscle, nerves, blood vessels, tendons, ligaments, or deep skin tissue. Radiation therapy may also raise your risk for pancreatic cancer.
Chemotherapy. Like radiation therapy, certain chemotherapy drugs can also raise risk for a secondary cancer. Chemotherapy for ovarian cancer typically includes a platinum-based drug, such as cisplatin or carboplatin. Your treatment could also include another type of chemotherapy called an alkylating agent, such as cyclophosphamide and ifosfamide. While the risk is still relatively low, both of these types of chemotherapies raise risk for leukemia. Higher doses, longer duration of treatment, or larger doses given over shorter periods further raise your risk.
Lifestyle factors. Certain lifestyle factors can raise your risk for numerous separate cancers, including ovarian cancer.
- Smoking: This habit raises your risk for more than a dozen types of cancer. While it doesn’t raise the risk for all ovarian cancer in general, it does seem to increase one’s odds of developing the subtype called mucinous ovarian cancer.
- Overweight or obese: Being overweight or obese raises the risk for numerous types of cancer, including ovarian cancer. While a poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle are not specific risk factors for ovarian cancer, they are often underlying causes of obesity, and they are risk factors for many other cancers.
Other lifestyle factors may not have an impact on your ovarian cancer risk, but they could independently impact your risk for other cancers. For example, drinking alcohol is tied to risk for several cancers.
Signs and Symptoms of a Second Cancer
The signs and symptoms of cancer depend greatly on the type of cancer. Symptoms of breast cancer, for example, may look nothing like early signs of leukemia. But some general symptoms could be a sign of a second cancer. They include:
- Feeling unusually tired
- A sore throat the doesn’t go away
- A cough or hoarse voice that doesn’t get better
- Loss of appetite
- Trouble digesting food
- Trouble swallowing
- A lump, discharge, bleeding or thickening in a certain spot on your body
- Achy bones
- Vision changes
Cancer survivors who have any of these symptoms should talk to their doctor.
Prevention of Secondary Cancers After Ovarian Cancer
You can’t change the type of treatment that you already had for your ovarian cancer. You can’t change your genes or family history either. But you can take steps to stay healthy, which may help lower your risk for several types of cancer.
To keep yourself as healthy as possible, you’ll want to:
- Exercise regularly, preferably 150 minutes a week.
- Choose healthy foods and avoid unhealthy ones.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Quit smoking or using tobacco and avoid secondhand smoke.
- Use sunscreen, sunglasses, and protective clothing outside in the sun.
- Avoid or limit alcohol to no more than one drink a day.
You may want to see a genetics counselor to learn whether you carry genes that raise your risk for other cancers. Based on your test results, you may have the option to receive treatment to prevent a second cancer or get earlier or more frequent screenings for other cancers.
It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about secondary cancers so that you can fully understand your risk. You might want to ask some of the following questions:
- Am I at risk for any other type of cancer in the future based on the type of cancer I had or the treatment I got? Which cancers?
- Does my survivorship plan include monitoring for other cancers?
- What other cancer screenings should I receive going forward?
Also, make sure you stay on top of all follow-up care after you finish your ovarian cancer treatment.
Coping With Ongoing Cancer Risk
Keep in mind, most ovarian cancer survivors don’t develop a second cancer. But for some people, the risk alone can cause a lot of fear and anxiety. If you find the fear of a second cancer to be overwhelming, you can get help. Look for a cancer survivors support group or ask your doctor for a referral to a therapist.