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Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine

 
Risk factors

Most scientists agree that these things affect the risk of ovarian cancer. Some may apply to you, but others may not.

Age
Family history
Jewish ethnicity
Height
Birth control pills
Number of births
Breastfeeding
Tied fallopian tubes
Hysterectomy



Age and ovarian cancer
The risk of ovarian cancer goes up with age. While some women in their 20's and 30's get ovarian cancer, the large majority of cases are diagnosed in women over 45. The average age that ovarian cancer is found is 63.

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Family History and ovarian cancer
Women who have a mother or sister with ovarian cancer have a higher risk of the disease. This is because some cases of ovarian cancers are linked to mutations in the genetic structure (DNA) of the body's cells that can be passed on from generation to generation.

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Jewish ethnicity and ovarian cancer
Jewish women have a higher risk of ovarian cancer, especially women of Ashkenazi descent. This is because they are more likely to have genetic mutations linked to ovarian cancer risk. Genetic mutations are inherited changes in the genetic structure (DNA) of the body's cells that can be passed from generation to generation.

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Height and ovarian cancer
Tall women have a higher risk of ovarian cancer. Researchers don't know exactly why, but it may be related to the fact that tall people grow more. Some of the same hormones and other factors that make people grow may also increase the chance that dividing cells become abnormal and turn cancerous.

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Birth control pills and ovarian cancer
Women who take birth control pills for 5 years or more have a lower risk of ovarian cancer. The longer a woman takes the pill, the more her risk decreases.

Birth control pills prevent eggs from being released from the ovaries, and they alter the levels of different hormones in a woman’s body. Birth control pills can have both positive and negative effects on a woman's health. If taken for at least 5 years, birth control pills can lower a woman's risk of colon cancer, uterine cancer and ovarian cancer. But while she's taking them, they raise her risk of breast cancer, heart attack and stroke. For some women, they can also cause side effects like nausea and vomiting.


Taking birth control pills and smoking can be a deadly combination. Together, they greatly increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. All women who smoke should quit for good as soon as possible.

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Number of births and ovarian cancer
Women who give birth to more than 2 children have a lower risk of ovarian cancer. While a woman is pregnant, her ovaries do not release additional eggs, and there are changes in the levels of different hormones in her body. These changes help protect against ovarian cancer.

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Breast feeding and ovarian cancer
Women who breast feed for a total of one year or more have a lower risk of ovarian cancer. When a woman is breastfeeding, there are important changes in the levels of different hormones in her body. These changes help protect against ovarian cancer.

Women who breast feed also have a lower risk of breast cancer.

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Tied fallopian tubes and ovarian cancer
Women who have their “tubes tied” (when the fallopian tubes are closed off to prevent pregnancy) have a lower risk of ovarian cancer. Scientists don’t know exactly why, but one possible explanation is that the changes in hormone levels after the operation help protect the ovaries from cancer.

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Hysterectomy and ovarian cancer
Women who've had a hysterectomy (removal of the womb) have a lower risk of ovarian cancer. Scientists aren't sure exactly why, but one possibility is that changes in hormone levels after the operation help protect the ovaries from cancer.

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