Doctors cannot always explain why one woman develops ovarian cancer and another does not. However, we do know that women with certain risk factors may be more likely than others to develop ovarian cancer:
- Family history of cancer Women who have a mother, daughter, or sister with ovarian cancer have an increased risk of the disease. Also, women with a family history of cancer of the breast, uterus, colon, or rectum may also have an increased risk of ovarian cancer.
If several women in a family have ovarian or breast cancer, especially at a young age, this is considered a strong family history. If you have a strong family history of ovarian or breast cancer, you may wish to talk to a genetic counselor about testing for you and the women in your family.
- Personal history of cancer Women who have had cancer of the breast, uterus, colon, or rectum have a higher risk of ovarian cancer.
- Age Most women are over age 55 when diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
- Never pregnant Older women who have never been pregnant have an increased risk of ovarian cancer.
- Menopausal hormone therapy Some studies have suggested that women who take estrogen by itself (without progesterone) for 10 or more years may have an increased risk of ovarian cancer.
Other possible risk factors: taking certain fertility drugs, using talcum powder, or being obese. It is not yet clear whether these do in fact pose a risk, but if they do, they are not strong factors.