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A risk factor is something that affects a person’s chance of getting a disease. Different cancers have different risk factors. Some risk factors, such as smoking, can be changed. Others, like a person’s age or race, can’t be changed.

But risk factors don’t tell us everything. Having a risk factor, or even many risk factors, does not mean that you will get the disease. And many people who get the disease may not have had any known risk factors. Even if a woman with ovarian cancer has a risk factor, it is very hard to know what part that risk factor might have played in the development of the cancer.

Factors linked to an increase in ovarian cancer risk include:

  • Increasing age
  • Obesity after menopause
  • Family history of ovarian cancer – having relatives with ovarian cancer increases your risk of getting it, too
  • Family history of breast or colorectal cancer – some family cancer syndromes that can cause these cancers can also increase the risk of ovarian cancer
  • Certain family cancer (genetic) syndromes – the most common is hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome, which is caused by abnormal changes (mutations) in the genes BRCA1 and BRCA2.
  • Breast cancer - women who have had breast cancer also have a higher risk of ovarian cancer.

Factors linked to a lower risk of ovarian cancer include:

  • Pregnancy
  • Breastfeeding
  • Birth control pills
  • The contraceptive injection depot medroxyprogesterone acetate (DMPA or Depo-Provera CI®)
  • Having your “tubes tied” (tubal ligation)
  • Removal of the uterus without removing the ovaries (a hysterectomy)
  • Low-fat diet

For more detailed information about how these risk factors affect ovarian cancer risk, see the section about risk factors in our document Ovarian Cancer.

Last Medical Review: 08/08/2014
Last Revised: 02/03/2016