A risk factor is anything that increases ones chance of getting a disease.
Most women with ovarian cancer do not have any risk factors. Even if you do have some of these risk factors, it doesn’t mean you will get the disease. It only means odds for getting the disease are greater.
Age: Age can be an important risk factor. Most women get this disease after menopause. Do not be misled though; there are a significant number of younger women diagnosed with this disease. Women have been diagnosed in all age categories. Because it is considered a disease of older women, many of these young women, some still in school, have lost their lives because of this belief. The Daily Mail ran an article on March 16, 2015 about baby Olivia-Grace Steele who was diagnosed two years ago with ovarian cancer at 10 days old. She battled through surgery and chemotherapy before her 1st birthday. Thankfully, today she is happy and healthy. Please do not ignore symptoms regardless of your age!
Obesity: The American Cancer Society did a study on obesity and ovarian cancer. They found a higher rate of death from ovarian cancer in obese women. The risk increased by 50% in the heaviest women.
Talcum Powder: Believe it or not, exposure to talcum powder in the genital area may slightly increase the risk of ovarian cancer. Talc in its natural form may contain asbestos, a known carcinogen. Since 1973, all talc products, such as baby powders and body powders, must not contain asbestos. Even though talcum powder is now asbestos-free, studies suggest that when applied to the genital area, talcum powder may affect the outer layer of the ovaries. While the studies are mixed, most experts agree that women should consider avoiding talc products.
Reproductive History and Infertility: Research suggests a relationship between the number of menstrual cycles in a woman’s lifetime and her risk of developing ovarian cancer. A woman is at an increased risk if she:
- Started menstruating at an early age (before 12),
- Has not given birth to any children,
- Had her first child after 30,
- Experienced menopause after 50,
- Has never taken oral contraceptives.
Infertility, regardless of whether or not a woman uses fertility drugs, also increases the risk of ovarian cancer.
Fertility Drugs: The connection between fertility drugs and ovarian cancer is mixed. There are studies that have identified certain fertility drugs as increasing the risk, while other studies indicate it is the infertility itself that increases the risk, not the drugs. The findings remain controversial.
Endometriosis and Polycystic Syndrome: Both of these conditions are found to increase the risk of developing ovarian cancer. Endometriosis – Endometriosis is condition in which cells that are normally found inside the uterus (endometrial cells) are found growing outside of the uterus. Women who develop endometriosis have approximately 30% higher risk of developing ovarian cancer. Danzol, a medication used to treat endometriosis has been linked to ovarian cancer. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) – Women with PCOS may be at a higher risk for developing ovarian cancer. Small research studies showed more than a doubling of the risk of ovarian cancer in women with PCOS, but scientists have not confirmed this in large population studies.
Family History: If a first degree relative has had ovarian, breast, colon or uterine cancer, you are probably very concerned – and rightfully so. Women can inherit risk factors from either parent. When there is a family history of cancer, it may be caused by an inherited genetic mutation of the breast cancer gene BRCA1 or BRCA2. About 10 to 15 percent of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer have a hereditary tendency to develop the disease. The most significant risk factor for ovarian cancer is an inherited genetic mutation in one of two genes: BRCA1 or BRCA2. Again, these gene mutations can come from either parent. There are a number of potential genetic mutations that may increase ones risk, including some that are more common in Ashkenazi Jews. These are women of Eastern European Jewish decent. Since these genes are linked to both breast and ovarian cancer, women who have had breast cancer have an increased risk of ovarian cancer. You can find more details about BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations in the Ovarian Cancer Risk Consensus Statement—BRCA1 and BRCA2.
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT): Doctors may prescribe hormone replacement therapy to alleviate symptoms associated with menopause (hot flashes, night sweats, sleeplessness, vaginal dryness). These common symptoms occur as the body adjusts to decreased levels of estrogen. Women who use hormone replacement therapy (HRT) are at an increased risk for ovarian cancer. Recent studies indicate that using a combination of estrogen and progestin for five or more years significantly increases the risk of ovarian cancer in women who have not had a hysterectomy. Ten or more years of estrogen use increases the risk of ovarian cancer in women who have had a hysterectomy.