Some women are more predisposed to develop gynaecological cancers than the general population because of inherited conditions, significant family history or other exposures. In particular, women who carry the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation are at high risk of developing breast and ovarian cancers and those who have a family history of Lynch syndrome are more likely to be diagnosed with colon, endometrial and ovarian cancer.
Unfortunately, unlike cervix cancer, there is no screening program for endometrial and ovarian cancer and no tests which adequately monitor the uterus or ovaries for signs of cancer before it develops. Because of this, recommendations have been made by Australian and international cancer organisations for risk-reduction surgery (ie. removal of the uterus (hysterectomy), tubes (salpingectomy) and/or ovaries (oophorectomy)) after childbearing is complete or by a particular age, depending on the woman’s risk profile.
Women who have these high risk conditions need to be aware of how risk-reduction surgery will impact their future health, balancing both the cancer perspective and also ongoing quality of life. I am a strong advocate for empowering my patients to make informed decisions regarding their health care and will dedicate time to talk with my patients and their families about their risks and how surgery can reduce their chances of developing gynaecological cancer so they can be comfortable deciding the best time for their procedure.
What you can do to reduce the risk of developing gynaecological cancer
Of course, surgery is not the only means of reducing the risk of developing gynaecological cancer. Women can also decrease their overall lifetime risk by:
- Avoiding smoking
- Keeping a healthy weight (BMI <25)
- Being vaccinated against HPV
- Avoiding prolonged use of HRT
- Having up to date cervical screening
- Maintaining good diabetic blood sugar control