Risk Factors for Ovarian Cancer
by Ricker Polsdorfer, MD
A risk factor is something that increases your likelihood of getting a disease or condition.
It is possible to develop ovarian cancer with or without the risk factors listed below. However, the more risk factors you have, the greater your likelihood of developing ovarian cancer. If you have a number of risk factors, ask your doctor what you can do to reduce your risk.
The most common risk factors, gender and age, cannot be changed. While ovarian cancer is more common in women over 60 years old, it can occur in younger women. Ovarian cancer in women under 40 years old is rare. The risk increases with age as women approach or complete menopause.
Other factors that may increase the chance of ovarian cancer include:
Certain factors in your medical history may help reduce your risk. These include:
The lower risk associated with these do not mean these would be the best options for you. Discuss any concerns you have about your overall risk of ovarian cancer if you are considering these options.
Family History and Genetics
Ovarian cancer tends to run in families. This is especially true for for first-degree relatives like a sister, daughter, or mother. Other cancers in your family also increase your risk of ovarian cancer, including colon, rectal, or breast cancers. These cancers that are associated with genetic mutations. Genetic mutations are also linked to diseases that increase the risk of those colon and rectal cancers, such as Lynch and familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) syndromes.
Families with a high risk of ovarian cancer may consider genetic testing to determine if known genetic factors are causing the increased risk. Genetic mutations are changes in cellular DNA that allow cancer to develop and grow. These mutations are inherited from the parent instead of developing over time. The common genetic mutations occur in BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. They are linked to the largest increase in lifetime risk. Women with the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations are also at a higher risk for breast cancer.
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Ovarian cancer. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at:
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Updated March 2017. Accessed January 29, 2018.
What are the risk factors for ovarian cancer? American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/ovarian-cancer/causes-risks-prevention/risk-factors.html. Updated February 4, 2016. Accessed January 29, 2018.
Last reviewed November 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP
Last Updated: 11/4/2016
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