- Posted by jdavis on August 24, 2011
Several factors may increase your risk of ovarian cancer. Having one or more of these risk factors doesn’t mean that you’re sure to develop ovarian cancer, but your risk may be higher than that of the average woman. These risk factors include:
Inherited gene mutations. The most significant risk factor for ovarian cancer is having an inherited mutation in one of two genes called breast cancer gene 1 (BRCA1) and breast cancer gene 2 (BRCA2). These genes were originally identified in families with multiple cases of breast cancer, which is how they got their names, but they’re also responsible for about 5 percent to 10 percent of ovarian cancers. You’re at particularly high risk of carrying these types of mutations if you’re of Ashkenazi Jewish descent. Another known genetic link involves an inherited syndrome called hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC). Individuals in HNPCC families are at increased risk of cancers of the uterine lining (endometrium), colon, ovary, stomach and small intestine. Risk of ovarian cancer associated with HNPCC is lower than is that of ovarian cancer associated with BRCA mutations.
Family history. Sometimes, ovarian cancer occurs in more than one family member but isn’t the result of any known inherited gene alteration. Having a family history of ovarian cancer increases your risk of the disease, but not to the same degree as does having an inherited genetic defect. If you have one first-degree relative — a mother, daughter or sister — with ovarian cancer, your risk of developing the disease is 5 percent over your lifetime.
Age. Ovarian cancer most often develops after menopause. Your risk of ovarian cancer increases with age through your late 70s. Although most cases of ovarian cancer are diagnosed in postmenopausal women, the disease also occurs in premenopausal women.
Childbearing status. Women who have had at least one pregnancy appear to have a lower risk of developing ovarian cancer. Similarly, the use of oral contraceptives appears to offer some protection against ovarian cancer.
Infertility. If you’ve had trouble conceiving, you may be at increased risk. Although the link is poorly understood, studies indicate that infertility increases the risk of ovarian cancer, even without use of fertility drugs. The risk appears to be highest for women with unexplained infertility and for women with infertility who never conceive. Research in this area is ongoing.
Ovarian cysts. Cyst formation is a normal part of ovulation in premenopausal women. However, cysts that form after menopause have a greater chance of being cancerous. The likelihood of cancer increases with the size of the growth and with age.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Findings about the possible link between postmenopausal use of the hormones estrogen and progestin and risk of ovarian cancer have been inconsistent. Some studies indicate a slightly increased risk of ovarian cancer in women taking estrogen after menopause, but other studies show no significant increase in risk. However, in a large study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in October 2006, researchers report that women who haven’t had a hysterectomy and who used menopausal hormone therapy for five or more years face a significantly increased risk of ovarian cancer.
Obesity in early adulthood. Studies have suggested that women who are obese at age 18 are at increased risk of developing ovarian cancer before menopause. Obesity may also be linked to more aggressive ovarian cancers, which can result in a shorter time to disease relapse and a decrease in the overall survival rate.