Risk Factors

Risk Factors


  • Ovarian cancer can occur at any age, but is rare in women younger than 40. About half of all women diagnosed with ovarian cancer are over 60 years of age.
  • Risk of ovarian cancer increases greatly for women over 50, with a much higher percent of women aged 60 and older being diagnosed in advanced stages.
  • Older women often do not have their regular gynecologic checkups after menopause and many have financial issues related to receiving quality testing and treatment (loss of income, Medicare restrictions).

Reproductive/Gyn History

A woman may be at an increased risk if she:

  • has never been pregnant
  • has never breastfed
  • has never used birth control
  • had her first child after the age of 35
  • started menstruating before the age of 12
  • went through menopause after the age of 50

A woman that has had a tubal ligation (tying the tubes) or a partial hysterectomy (removal of the uterus) may have a reduced risk of ovarian cancer. Women who have had their ovarian removed have a lower risk of ovarian cancer.

Estrogen or Hormone Therapy

  • Having taken hormone therapy for menopausal symptoms may increase your risk for ovarian cancer especially if you took estrogen therapy without progesterone for at least 5 to 10 years.

Fertility Drugs

  • Long-term use (over one year) of the fertility drug Clomiphene Citrate (Clomid) may increase your risk. This risk seems higher if the therapy did not result in a pregnancy.


  • Body mass index greater than 30 increases your risk substantially. 

Personal or Family History

  • Personal history of breast, uterine, primary peritoneal or colon cancer increases your risk for ovarian cancer.
  • History on either side of your family (mother or father) of ovarian, breast, uterine or colon cancer may increase your risk. See other Related Cancers below.
  • Most cases of ovarian cancer occur in women who do not have a family history.
  • The younger your relative was when she developed ovarian cancer, the higher your risk.

Inherited Gene Carrier

  • Having a BRCA1 gene mutation increases your lifetime risk by 35-70%.
  • BRCA2 gene mutation increases a woman’s chance by 10-30% by age 70.
  • Belonging to an ethnic group that has a high prevalence of this mutation (Ashkenazi Jewish women) may heighten risk.
  • Hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer, PTEN gene (Cowden’s Disease), STKII gene (Peutz-Jaghers syndrome) and MUTYH associated polyposis are also genetic issues that increase your risk of ovarian cancer.

Talcum Powder

  • Some studies suggest a slight increase of risk in women who used talc on the genital area prior to 20 years ago when talcum powder contained asbestos, a known carcinogen.

Special Concerns for Minority Women

  • Of the minority women in America, women of American Indian/Alaskan descent are at the highest risk, followed by Hispanic women, and then African-American women.
  • Asian/Pacific Islander women are at the least risk.
  • Women’s with an Ashkenazi Jewish decent, are at increased risk of ovarian cancer.
  • Minority women are less likely to see a health care provider due to lack of having comprehensive health insurance. Because of this, African-American women have a slightly higher death rate among other minority women because they are more often diagnosed in advanced stages.

Special Concerns for Lesbian Women

  • Lesbian women are less likely to use oral contraceptives, which increases their risk.
  • Many lesbian women choose not to bear children, which increases the risk.
  • Discrimination can discourage lesbian women from getting annual pelvic exams.

How Can I Reduce My Risk?

  • Using birth control pills
  • Having your tubes tied (tubal ligation)
  • In high-risk women, removal of both ovaries (bilateral oophorectomy) with or without your uterus
  • Risk of ovarian cancer decreases with each pregnancy
  • Breastfeeding
  • New evidence suggests that low fat diets that are high in vegetables may decrease your risk of ovarian cancer.