Am I at Risk for Ovarian Cancer?

Unfortunately, there’s no way to know if you’ll get ovarian cancer. In fact, most women who get this type of cancer were not at high risk.

But some factors may make getting ovarian cancer more likely — even though they don’t necessarily cause the disease. These risk factors include: 

  • Being middle-aged or older
  • Having close family members (such as your mother, sister, aunt or grandmother) on either your mother’s or your father’s side who have had ovarian cancer
  • Having a genetic mutation (abnormality) called BRCA1 or BRCA2, or one associated with Lynch syndrome
  • Having had breastuterine or colorectal (colon) cancer
  • Having an Eastern European or Ashkenazi Jewish background
  • Having endometriosis
  • Never giving birth or trouble getting pregnant 
  • Being obese (a body mass index greater than 30) 
  • Using estrogen replacement therapy (without progesterone) for menopause for more than 10 years

Possible other factors: It’s not clear if using talcum powder on the genital area (including using it on sanitary napkins) raises the risk for ovarian cancer. Also, studies are conflicted as to whether using fertility medicines for more than a year increases the risk of ovarian cancer.

If you’re at higher risk for ovarian cancer, talk with your doctor about using ultrasound to check your ovaries for changes.

Are There Effective Ways to Prevent Ovarian Cancer?

So far, what is known about risk factors has not translated into practical ways to prevent most cases of ovarian cancer.

Some ways you can reduce your risk of developing some forms of ovarian cancer include:

Ovarian Cancer Risk small
  • Oral contraceptives: Using birth control pills decreases the risk of developing ovarian cancer, especially among women who use them for several years.  
  • Gynecologic surgery: Having both a tubal ligation and hysterectomy (should be done only for valid medical reasons)
  • Prevention strategies also used for women with a family history of ovarian cancer or BRCA mutation.

The Lack of Screening Tests

There’s been a lot of research to develop a screening test for ovarian cancer, but without much success. Available tests are not accurate enough to find ovarian cancer in most women. 

Having a regular pelvic exam is important. If you’re at higher risk for ovarian cancer, talk with your doctor about using ultrasound to check your ovaries for changes.

CA-125 is a protein found in the cells of some kinds of ovarian cancer. Women who have higher levels of this protein may — but not always — have ovarian cancer. Regular blood tests for the antigen CA-125 may also be an option for women at high risk.

Small Steps: Cover up
When the sun is at its brightest, protect yourself with a hat and sunglasses, and use sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher.