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Risk Factors for Ovarian Cancer

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 healthcare provider what you can do to reduce your risk.

Risk factors for ovarian cancer appear to be related mainly to your genetic makeup and the number of times you ovulate. Risk factors include:

Gender

Because only women have ovaries, ovarian cancer occurs exclusively in women.

Medical Conditions

Your risk of ovarian cancer may increase if:

  • You have survived breast cancer
  • You have never been pregnant
  • You started your period early or went through menopause late

The risk of ovarian cancer tends to be slightly lower in women who:

  • Take birth control pills
  • Have had a tubal ligation
  • Have had a hysterectomy
  • Breastfed

Genetic Factors

Rates of ovarian cancer are three to five times higher in women with a mother or sister who had ovarian cancer. If you have a family history of ovarian cancer, talk specifically with your physician about your options for care and treatment. You should undergo additional testing as well as consider prophylactic (preventative) treatments. Some women with a history of familial cancer, which tends to occur at younger ages than in the general population, will decide to have their ovaries removed to prevent development of cancer.

Age

The incidence of ovarian cancer increases with age until the age of 75. The disease is rare in women under the age of 30, though it can be seen in younger women.

Ethnic Background

The highest rates of ovarian cancer are in Scandinavian countries.

References:

Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. 14th ed. McGraw-Hill; 1998.

National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/ .



Last reviewed April 2007 by Barbara Harty-Golder, MD, JD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.


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