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Information for Every Woman

Ovarian cancer risk factors:

Increased risk:

  • Being a woman
  • Overweight or obese
  • Childbirth later in life or never having a full-term pregnancy
  • Hormone replacement therapy
  • A family history of ovarian cancer, breast cancer or colorectal cancer
  • A personal history of breast cancer
  • An inherited genetic mutation (BRCA1, BRCA2)
  • A family cancer syndrome (Lynch syndrome, Peutz-Jeghers syndrome, MUTYH-associated polyposis)
  • Fertility treatment
  • Smoking

To decrease risk:

  • Take birth control
  • Childbirth and breastfeeding
  • Surgical removal of ovaries and fallopian tubes
  • Hysterectomy/tubal ligation

While the presence of one or more risk factors may increase a woman’s chance of developing ovarian cancer, it does not necessarily mean that she will get the disease. A woman with one or more risk factors should be extra vigilant to watch for possible signs and symptoms, and report them as soon as possible to a health care provider.

Options for women at higher risk of ovarian cancer

Talk with your health care provider about the options best for you:

  • If you have an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer, your doctor may periodically order a blood test that has shown some usefulness in finding epithelial ovarian cancer 
  • Genetic counseling; if the risk appears to be substantial, genetic testing (including BRCA1 and BRCA2)
  • Taking birth control pills may decrease ovarian cancer in women at increased risk — possibly reducing the cancer risk by half. However, this may increase the risk of breast cancer in women with the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation, so additional research is needed.
  • Women with a documented hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC), also known as Lynch Syndrome, should undergo periodic screening mammography, colonoscopy, and endometrial biopsy 
  • If a woman wishes to preserve her reproductive capacity, an option is to undergo screening by transvaginal ultrasonography every six months, although the efficacy of this approach is not clearly established
  • A woman may consider removing both ovaries and fallopian tubes (bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy) if maintaining fertility is not important or she has completed her family
  • The risk of ovarian cancer should be clearly documented before surgery. This procedure does not offer absolute protection because peritoneal carcinomas occasionally can occur after bilateral oophorectomy, therefore counseling should be considered. This procedure should be performed by a gynecologic oncologist.

Related Topics


Get information about the tests that are available for making a diagnosis when ovarian cancer is suspected. 

Types and stages

Learn about the different types of ovarian cancer, and how the stage, or the degree that the disease has spread, is determined.

Signs and symptoms

Knowing what to look for is important, especially if you’re at increased risk; the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer are often vague or mimic other ailments.  

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