Studies have found the following risk factors for ovarian cancer:
- Women who have a mother, daughter or sister with ovarian cancer have an increased risk of the disease. Also, women with a family history of cancer of the breast, uterus, colon or rectum may also have an increased risk of ovarian cancer.
If several women in a family have ovarian or breast cancer, especially at a young age, this is considered a strong family history. If you have a strong family history of ovarian or breast cancer, you may wish to talk to a genetic counselor. The counselor may suggest genetic testing for you and the women in your family. Genetic tests can sometimes show the presence of specific gene changes that increase the risk of ovarian cancer.
- Women who have had cancer of the breast, uterus, colon or rectum have a higher risk of ovarian cancer.
- Most ovarian cancers develop after menopause. Half of all ovarian cancers are found in women over the age of 63.
- A woman who has had children has a lower risk of ovarian cancer than women who have no children. The risk gets even lower with each pregnancy. Breast feeding may lower the risk even further. Using oral contraceptives (also known as birth control pills) also lowers the risk of ovarian cancer.
- Studies have suggested that women who take estrogen by itself (estrogen without progesterone) for 10 or more years may have an increased risk of ovarian cancer.
- Various studies have looked at the relationship of obesity and ovarian cancer. A study from the American Cancer Society also found a higher rate of death from ovarian cancer in obese women. The risk was increased by 50 percent in the heaviest women.
Scientists have also studied whether taking certain fertility drugs and using talcum powder are risk factors. It is not clear whether these are risk factors, but if they are, they are not strong risk factors.