The exact causes of ovarian cancer are not known. Studies show that there are some factors that may increase the chance of developing ovarian cancer.
- Family history. First degree relatives (mother, daughter, sister) of a woman who has had ovarian cancer are at increased risk of developing this type of cancer themselves. There is an even higher likelihood if two or more first degree relatives have developed the disease. A family history of breast or colon cancer is also associated with an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer.
Age. The older a woman gets, the more her chance of developing ovarian cancer. Most ovarian cancers occur in women over the age of 50.
Childbearing. Women who have never had children are more likely to develop ovarian cancer than women who have had children. The more children a woman has had, the less likely she is to develop ovarian cancer.
Personal history. Women who have had breast or colon cancer may have a greater chance of developing ovarian cancer than women who have not had breast or colon cancer.
Fertility drugs. Drugs that cause a woman to ovulate may slightly increase her chance of developing ovarian cancer.
Talc. Some studies suggest that women who have used talc in the genital area for many years may be at increased risk of developing ovarian cancer.
Hormone replacement therapy. Some evidence suggests that women who use hormone replacement therapy after menopause may have a slightly higher risk of developing ovarian cancer.
Some studies have shown that having and breastfeeding children and taking birth control pills (oral contraceptives) may decrease a woman's likelihood of developing ovarian cancer. These factors decrease the number of times a woman ovulates, and studies suggest that reducing the number of ovulations during a woman's lifetime may lower the risk of ovarian cancer.
Women who have had a tubal ligation ("tubes tied") or have had their uterus and cervix removed (hysterectomy) also have a lower risk of developing ovarian cancer.
Some recent studies suggest that reducing the amount of fat in the diet may lower the risk of developing ovarian cancer.
Just because a woman has one or more of the risk factors mentioned does not mean that a woman is sure to develop ovarian cancer. It only means the chance may be higher than average. Women who are concerned about ovarian cancer may want to talk with a doctor who specializes in treating women with cancer. The doctor may be able to suggest ways to reduce the chances of developing ovarian cancer and can plan a schedule for check-ups.
For more information about any cancer concern, contact:
Cancer Information Service
Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center
UI Hospitals and Clinics
200 Hawkins Drive, 4802 JPP
Iowa City, Iowa 52242