This year, about 21,750 women will receive a new diagnosis of ovarian cancer, and about 13,940 will lose their life to this deadly disease, leaving their loved ones asking why. With so much still unknown about the causes of cancer, doctors and researchers are searching for factors that may put a woman at risk of developing ovarian cancer. They hope that with this knowledge, they can help the millions of women who fall victim to this disease lower their risk and lead longer, healthier lives. While some factors are known to increase a woman’s chance of ovarian cancer, scientists are still assessing some other possible theories.
Factors Known to Increase a Woman’s Risk of Ovarian Cancer
Most forms of ovarian cancer develop after a woman reaches menopause. Women aged 40 and older are at greater risk of developing ovarian cancer than their younger counterparts, and 50 percent of all ovarian cancer cases occur in women aged 63 or older.
Hormone therapy treatments such as estrogen with or without progesterone taken after menopause may increase a woman’s risk.
Obesity has been linked to an increased risk of many forms of cancer. Researchers believe that women with a body mass index of at least 30 may be at a higher risk of ovarian cancer.
Researchers have linked smoking to an increased risk of a type of ovarian cancer called mucinous ovarian cancer.
A Family History of Some Cancers
Women with a family history of breast, colorectal, or ovarian cancer are at an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer in their lifetime. The risk increases if the woman’s mother, sister, or daughter has had ovarian cancer. The more family members who suffer the disease, the greater the risk. Hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome (HBOC), which is caused by an inherited gene mutation in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, has been linked to an increased risk of ovarian, primary peritoneal, and fallopian tube cancers. Women of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage are at ten times greater risk of inheriting the BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutation than the general population of U.S. women.
A Personal History of Cancer
Women who have had breast cancer may be at greater risk of developing ovarian cancer too.
Hereditary Nonpolyposis Colon Cancer (HNPCC)
Women with this syndrome are at an increased risk of developing cancer of the colon, uterus, and ovaries. The lifetime risk of developing ovarian cancer for women with HNPCC is approximately 10 percent.
Family Cancer Syndrome
Up to 25 percent of ovarian cancer cases are linked to family cancer syndrome caused by inherited gene mutations.
Having Children After Age 35
Women who carry their first full-term pregnancy after age 35 and those who never carry a pregnancy to full term are at increased risk.
Researchers believe that in vitro fertilization (IVF) may increase the risk of a type of ovarian cancer called “borderline” or “low malignant potential” ovarian cancer.
This rare genetic syndrome causes stomach and intestine polyps in teenagers. It also increases a person’s risk of cancer, especially of the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, and colon. Women with Peutz-Jeghers syndrome are also at an increased risk of ovarian cancer.
This syndrome causes polyps in the small intestine and colon. It increases a person’s risk of colon cancer, bladder cancer, and ovarian cancer in women.
Factors that Might have a Link to Ovarian Cancer
Scientists are still researching if the following factors have a definitive link to a woman’s ovarian cancer risk:
- Androgens, such as testosterone
- Talcum powder
- A high-fat diet
When to Talk to Your Doctor
If you have a known history of ovarian cancer in your immediate family or other types of cancers, you should share that information with your doctor when they ask for details about your personal and family health history. If you have any concerns about your risk of ovarian cancer after reading this list of possible risk factors, talk to your doctor. They can determine the best screening process to monitor your health and detect and treat any abnormalities early.