A risk factor is something that increases your likelihood of getting a disease or condition.

It is possible to develop ovarian cancer without the risk factors listed below. However, the more risk factors you have, the greater your likelihood of developing ovarian cancer. If you have a number of risk factors, ask your health care provider what you can do to reduce your risk.

Risk factors for ovarian cancer appear to be related mainly to your genetic makeup and the number of times you ovulate. Risk factors include:


Because only women have ovaries, ovarian cancer occurs exclusively in women.

Medical Conditions

Your risk of ovarian cancer increases if:

  • You have survived breast cancer
  • You have never been pregnant
  • Your ovaries do not function normally
  • You have had multiple miscarriages or abortions
  • You have taken ovulation-inducing (fertility) drugs such as clomiphene.

The risk of ovarian cancer tends to be slightly lower in women who:

  • Have taken birth control pills
  • Have had a tubal ligation
  • Have had a hysterectomy

In addition, each full-term pregnancy reduces your risk by about 10%. Breastfeeding appears to offer an additional reduction in risk.

Genetic Factors

Rates of ovarian cancer are three to five times higher in women with a mother or sister who had ovarian cancer. If two of your first-degree relatives have had ovarian cancer, your risk may be as high as 50%.


The incidence of ovarian cancer increases with age until the age of 75. It is rare before the age of 40.

Ethnic Background

The highest rates of ovarian cancer are in Scandinavian countries.

Dietary Factors

Some research suggests that the risk of ovarian cancer may increase with a higher dietary fat intake.