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Ovarian Cancer Causes, Risk Factors and Prevention

Patients receiving care for ovarian cancer at Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center have access to the latest advancements in cancer treatment from an experienced, caring team. We work with you to build an individualized treatment plan for your specific needs. Our doctors ensure you have the information, resources and support you need to understand your diagnosis and treatment options and make informed health care decisions. 

What Causes Ovarian Cancer?

It's not clear what causes ovarian cancer. A recent finding indicates that ovarian cancer may actually start in the fallopian tube rather than in the actual ovary. There are factors that may increase your risk of getting ovarian cancer.

Risk Factors for Ovarian Cancer

A risk factor is anything that increases your chance of getting a disease. Some risk factors you can change, and others you can’t. With ovarian cancer, the following may increase your risk:

  • Age: Ovarian cancer is most common in women middle age or older with more than half of the cases seen in women 63 years or older per the American Cancer Society
  • Obesity: Being overweight or obese has been linked to many cancers and may affect ovarian cancer survival
  • Family history: If you have a family history of ovarian, breast and/or colorectal cancer, you may be at increased risk. BRCA1 or BRCA2 genetic mutations significantly increase the risk of ovarian cancer 
  • History of breast cancer: If you have had breast cancer, you might also have an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer
  • Childbirth: Never being pregnant, never having a full-term pregnancy, or having your first baby after age 35 increases your risk of ovarian cancer
  • Infertility: Women who have a history of infertility or have used in vitro fertilization (IVF) are at increased risk 
  • Estrogen: Using estrogen hormone replacement therapy after menopause as well as beginning menstruation at an early age or starting menopause at a later age, may increase your risk of ovarian cancer

The most important risk factors for ovarian cancer are age and a family history of ovarian, colorectal or breast cancer.

Ovarian cysts are common in some women and rarely cancerous. This type of cyst usually goes unnoticed. However, if you’ve had any changes in your health, talk to a health care professional to be sure you get the proper diagnosis and treatment.

How to Prevent Ovarian Cancer

Although you can’t prevent ovarian cancer, there are certain things that may lower your risk, including:

  • Taking oral contraceptives 
  • IUDs (intrauterine devices) 
  • Breastfeeding
  • Tubal ligation (surgical sterilization procedure)
  • Hysterectomy (removing the uterus without removing the ovaries)

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