Causes and Risk Factors of Ovarian Cancer

While cancer specialists do not exactly what causes ovarian cancer, there are several factors that can add to the probability that a woman will develop ovarian cancer in her lifetime. Knowing what to look for, and what may cause someone to have a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer, is imperative for every woman.

Family History

Having a history of breast, colorectal, or ovarian cancer within one’s family increases the risk of ovarian cancer. Due to a link in gene mutations, known as BRCA1 and BRCA2, multiple cases of breast and ovarian cancer are often found in the same family. The more relatives in the family that have, or have had, any of these forms of cancer the higher a woman’s risk of getting ovarian cancer.

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Caucasian women are more likely to develop ovarian cancer than African American women. Studies have also shown that those of Ashkenazi Jewish background also seem to have a higher risk of developing the disease.


Women who are older, and especially those that have gone through menopause, have a much higher probability of getting ovarian cancer than younger women. While it is less likely that a younger woman would develop the disease, it is certainly not unheard of.

Hormones and Hormone Replacement

Studies have shown that women who choose to use hormone replacement therapy after menopause have a higher chance of developing ovarian cancer. While it seems that estrogen replacement therapy increases a woman’s likelihood of getting ovarian cancer, the use of birth control pills, and of contraception injection, can reduce that likelihood in younger women.

Never Being Pregnant

Having never carried a child increases a woman’s chances of developing ovarian cancer. However, carrying a baby full term lowers a woman’s risk and that risk decreases with every child carried. Women who choose to have a tubal ligation can reduce their probability of developing ovarian cancer. A hysterectomy that leaves the ovaries in place can also decrease a woman’s chances of developing the disease.

Fertility Drugs

While never carrying a baby increases one’s risk, studies show that women who choose to use fertility drugs also increase their chance of becoming afflicted with ovarian cancer. The use of fertility drugs without actually conceiving increases those odds even more.

Risk factors that are easily controllable include maintaining a healthy body weight, eating a nutritious diet that contains at least 2 1/2 servings of fruits and vegetables a day, and not smoking. While a woman may have one, or multiple, risk factors it does not mean she is doomed to get ovarian cancer. By knowing her family’s history, personal history, learning about and knowing which factors apply to her, and talking to her doctor should any ovarian cancer like symptoms occur a dozen times or more in a one month period, her chances of catching ovarian cancer in its early stages are dramatically increased. Every woman is her own best advocate.