What are the common risk factors for ovarian cancer?

A risk factor is a cause or a factor that can increase or decrease your chances of getting a specific disease. In the case of ovarian cancer and other types of cancers, some of these risk factors can be either controllable or uncontrollable.

Controllable risk factors are those that you can influence or change – for example, if you are a smoker, you can cut down or completely stop smoking in order to reduce your exposure to carcinogens and to lower the risk of getting cancer. Uncontrollable factors are those that you have no control over, such as your age, genetic history or family history of cancer.

The various risk factors for ovarian cancer are listed below:



Age plays a primal role when it comes to the risk of developing ovarian cancer. The risk of ovarian cancer increases with increasing age. It can occur at any age although diagnosing ovarian cancer in women below the age of 40 has become quite rare.

Reproductive factors:

Reproductive factors are associated with the development of ovarian cancers. Early menarche (before age 12) and late menopause (after age 52) are associated with increased risk of ovarian cancer. Infertility also increases the risk. Oral contraceptive pills and women with multiple pregnancies have lower risk of developing ovarian cancer.

Hormonal Factors:

Polycystic ovarian disease (PCOD) appears to have increased risk of developing ovarian cancer. Treatment for infertility does not appear to have increased risk. Post menopausal hormonal therapy was found to increase the risk in some studies. Use of oral contraceptive pills decreases the risk of ovarian cancer.

Genetic Factors:

Several ovarian cancer susceptibility genes have been identified. These genes primarily involve BRCA1 and BRCA2. Genetic mutations make up to quarter of ovarian cancers.
Women with BRCA gene mutations have increased risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. the lifetime risk of ovarian cancer in BRCA1 mutation patients is 35 to 46 % and for BRCA2 mutation is 13 to 23 %.
Lynch syndrome is associated with several cancers like colon cancer, endometrial cancer, ovarian cancer, urogenital, and other intestinal cancers. The lifetime risk of ovarian cancer in these patients is 3 to 14 %.

Family history

Family history plays an important role in developing ovarian cancer. Women with 1st degree relative have more than twofold increase risk of developing ovarian cancer.

Hormone replacement therapy

For most women going through menopause, doctors prescribe hormone replacement therapies in order to alleviate the symptoms {insert article hyperlink here} that come with menopause such as dryness, hot flushes, and night sweats that usually occur when the body gets adjusted to the decreasing levels of estrogen.

Hormone replacement therapy usually includes treatment with estrogen alone. This is most commonly seen in the the case of women who have had a hysterectomy. However, women who have not undergone hysterectomy, are treated with a combination of progesterone and estrogen.

Women who receive hormone therapy are at a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer according to some studies.

Environmental factors:

Cigarette smoking, current or past appears to increase the risk of Ovarian cancer especially mucinous type of ovarian cancer.

There is no clear relationship between physical activity and ovarian cancer risk. However, modest decrease in risk is observed with high physical activity.
Obesity increases the risk of ovarian cancer.

How to reduce the risk of developing ovarian cancer?

Although doctors agree that there is no definite way to completely prevent ovarian cancer, there are some ways in which the risk of developing the disease, can be controlled or reduced. Some of these methods include:

Oral contraceptives

Studies have shown that women who have used oral contraceptives for five or more years are at a 20% lower risk of developing ovarian cancer, as compared to women who have never used oral contraceptives before.

Pregnancy and breastfeeding

Numerous studies have shown that pregnancy and breastfeeding can significantly reduce the risk of developing ovarian cancer because women ovulate less frequently when they are either pregnant or breastfeeding. It is also said that multiple pregnancies or a full-term pregnancy before the age of 26 can decrease the risk of developing ovarian cancer. Breastfeeding for a cumulative duration of more than 12 months decreases the risk of ovarian cancer.

Removal of ovaries and fallopian tubes (For BRCA1 positive women)- Salpingo-oophorectomy:

A surgery known as prophylactic bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy can significantly reduces the risk of developing ovarian cancer. This procedure includes the surgical removal of the ovaries and as the fallopian tubes. Studies have shown that women with a confirmed positive BRCA1 gene mutation can reduce their ovarian cancer risk with this procedure.

Hysterectomy and tubal ligation

Hysterectomy (removal of uterus) without oophorectomy (removal of ovaries) has shown to decrease the risk of developing ovarian cancer, and by going through a tubal ligation procedure (which is the tying of the fallopian tubes), the risk is can be further lowered.

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