Is a woman who has never given birth more likely to develop ovarian or uterine cancer than a woman who has had a child?
In ovarian cancer, the likelihood of developing the disease is reduced with each pregnancy, says Dr. Alexander Burnett, chief of UAMS’ Division of Gynecologic Oncology. “Also, if a woman takes birth control pills for at least five years during her reproductive life, she will have a reduced chance of developing ovarian cancer. It appears that women who have continuous ovarian cycles with monthly ovulation are at increased risk for ovarian cancer. These conditions – pregnancy and oral contraceptive pills – provide a break from the continuous cycles and are theorized to reduce cancer by some related, as yet defined, mechanism.”
As for uterine cancer, the main risk factor is prolonged exposure to estrogen. “This can be due to excess body fat, taking estrogen medications without progesterone, or situations where the uterus is continuously exposed to the woman’s own estrogens,” says Dr. Burnett. “Statistically, women who have children are at lower risk than women who have never given birth. It is theorized that pregnancy provides a period of endometrial ‘rest.'”
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