Ovarian cancer risk factors

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]; Associate Editor(s)-in-Chief: Huda A. Karman, M.D.


The risk of developing ovarian cancer appears to be affected by several factors; in fact, early age at first pregnancy, older ages of final pregnancy, and the use of low dose hormonal contraception have been associated with a lower incidence of ovarian cancer. There is good evidence that in some women genetic factors are important.

Risk Factors

Common risk factors in the development of ovarian cancer include:

Ovarian cancer risk factors Characterestics description
Known risk factors Age As age increases, ovarian cancer incidence increases.
Hormonal and reproductive factors Early menarche and late menopause, Nulliparity, Infertility
Early menarche and late menopause Both increase the frequency of the ovulation and the ovarian epithelium exposure to persistent injury
Nulliparity Studies have shown that multiparity and full-term pregnancies decrease the risk of ovarian cancer and fallopian tubal carcinoma
Infertility Infertility is an independent risk factor of ovarian cancer
Endometriosis Ovarian cancers that arise from endometriotic tissue usually affect young women and have better prognosis and survival rates
Polycystic ovarian syndrome The association is controversial and complex
Postmenopausal hormone therapy Estrogen therapy alone has more association with ovarian cancer than combined estrogen-progesteron therapy
Intrauterine device Regardless of the type of the IUD, studies have shown an increased risk of ovarian cancer with IUD use
Genetic factors
BRCA gene mutations The risk is more with BRCA1 carriers than BRCA2 carriers[1]. Ovarian cancer develops at an earlier age in BRCA1-carrier women compared to BRCA2-carrier women. Serous adenocarcinoma is the most common type[2].General women and women with BRCA mutations usually present with stage III or IV
Lynch syndrome Hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC) : 1 percent of cases with ovarian cancer have Lynch syndrome[3].
Other genetic factors The genes in the Fanconi anemias pathway can undergo different mutations and lead to the development of ovarian and/or breast cancer[4]. The genes that are associated with ovarian cancer are: BRCA1, BRCA2, BRIP1, RAD51C, RAD51D, PALB2, and BARD1[5]
Family history of certain cancers BRCA mutation carriers with personal or family history of breast cancer have higher risk of developing ovarian cancer that those without BRCA mutation
Personal history of breast cancer Increases the risk of breast-ovarian syndrome
Environmental factors Cigarette smoking associated with mucinous ovarian cancer[6], asbestos,Talc (Its association is controversial)[7].
Other factors Diet: dairy food with high animal fat intake is claimed to be associated with ovarian cancer but data are not sufficient to confirm this association[8], exercise: No clear evidence about the association between physical activity and breast cancer[9], and obesity: can increases the risk of ovarian cancer and the risk of its mortality[10], Pelvic inflammatory disease can increase the risk of and might be used as tumor marker for ovarian tumor[11]
Possible risk factors Obesity Can increases the risk of ovarian cancer and the risk of its mortality[10],
Talc use on genetals Its association is controversial)[7].
Unknown risk factors Food types and amount Dairy food with high animal fat intake is claimed to be associated with ovarian cancer but data are not sufficient to confirm this association[8]
Fertility drugs The role of medications used for ovulation induction in increasing the risks of ovarian cancer is controversial. The association between the fertility drugs and ovarian cancer could be due to the stimulating effect of these drug[12], however this association is not a causal relation
Sedentary life Its association is unknown


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