Ovarian cancer risk factors

20 Aug 2021

Ovarian cancer is the 10th most commonly diagnosed cancer among females in Australia. Some ovarian cancer risk factors you can control but many others, like inherited genes, are out of your control. Find out whether you have any risk factors.

A risk factor means there may be an increased chance of developing a certain condition, such as cancer. There are many cancer risk factors you can control, like lifestyle. However, many others are out of your control such as inherited genes or whether someone in your family has had cancer.

It’s important to remember that just because you have one or more risk factors, it doesn’t mean you will develop cancer. Most people have at least one risk factor but won’t develop cancer.

Here are some factors associated with a higher risk of developing Ovarian Cancer.

Increasing age is the biggest risk factor for ovarian cancer. The average age at diagnosis is 64 years old.

Family history
Women who have one or more blood relatives (mother, sister or daughter) diagnosed with ovarian cancer have a higher risk of developing it themselves. If you have a family history of breast or colon cancer, you may also have a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer.

Gene mutation
Up to 15% of all cases of invasive ovarian cancer involve the inheritance of a mutated gene. The mutated BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes are particularly associated with an increased risk of ovarian and breast cancer. Women with Lynch syndrome (also known as hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer or HNPCC) also have an increased lifetime risk of ovarian cancer.

Other factors
These include:             

  • Medical conditions such as endometriosis
  • Use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
  • Tobacco smoking
  • Obesity
  • Not having children

Here are some factors considered protective in developing Ovarian Cancer.

Having children
Women who have had a full-term pregnancy particularly before the age of 26 have a lower risk.

Oral contraceptives (the pill)
Women who have used oral contraceptives for at least 3 months have a lower risk. This lower risk continues for many years after the pill is stopped.

Gynecological surgery
Hysterectomy (removal of the uterus) and tubal ligation (having your tubes tied) reduce the risk.

It is not clear whether the following affect the risk of ovarian cancer:

  • Diet
  • Alcohol
  • Aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Talc 


For more information visit the following websites:

Ovarian Cancer Australia

Cancer Australia

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare