Although the cause of ovarian cancer is not known, the risk for developing ovarian cancer can be linked to several factors. These factors include:
- A family history of 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 you have a strong family history of ovarian or breast cancer, you may want to ask your provider to refer you 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. Certain genes, known as BRCA1 and BRCA2, may be linked to both ovarian and breast cancer.
- A personal history of cancer: Women who have had cancer of the breast, uterus, colon, or rectum have a higher risk of ovarian cancer.
- Age: Most women diagnosed with ovarian cancer are over the age of 55. However, while epithelial ovarian cancers are more common at older ages, germ cell cancers are more common among young women.
- Having never been pregnant: Older women who have never been pregnant have an increased risk of ovarian cancer. The more children a woman has and the earlier in life that she gives birth, the lower her risk of ovarian cancer.
- Hormone therapy to treat menopause: Some studies have suggested that women who take estrogen, without also taking progesterone, for ten or more years, may have an increased risk of ovarian cancer.
- Obesity: Women who have a high body mass index, or BMI, have a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer.
It’s important to remember that having a risk factor does not mean that you will develop ovarian cancer. Most women who have risk factors do not get the disease. On the other hand, women who do get the disease often have no known risk factors, except for growing older. If you think you may be at risk for ovarian cancer, be sure to share your concerns with your provider.