Ovarian Cancer Inherited Risk

Factors that increase risk

  • Older age. The risk for ovarian cancer increases as we get older. Most ovarian cancer occurs in women over age 55.
  • Family history of ovarian cancer. Because having ovarian cancer is rare, having a family member with ovarian cancer increases your risk.
  • Hereditary patterns. Mutations in the BRCA genes increase ovarian cancer risk. Families with hereditary patterns of colon or uterine cancer may also have an increased risk for ovarian cancer.
  • Few pregnancies or never being pregnant. Low parity (few pregnancies) or nulliparity (never being pregnant) is linked to ovarian cancer because of the total number of times a woman ovulates.
  • Total number of menstrual cycles. A greater number of menstrual cycles over the course of a woman's life, including starting periods at a very young age and/or going through menopause late, lead to an increased risk of ovarian cancer.

Factors that decrease risk

  • Things that stop ovulation, such as pregnancies, breast feeding, oral contraceptives. Anything that limits the number of times a woman ovulates can also reduce her risk of ovarian cancer. This includes being pregnant, breastfeeding and using oral contraceptives, or birth control pills. If you have been pregnant at least once, your risk of ovarian cancer decreases 20-30 percent. Every additional pregnancy adds more protection.
  • Surgical removal of the ovaries and fallopian tubes. Removal of the ovaries and fallopian tubes, or bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy, provides the highest protection from ovarian cancer.
    See more in our Ovarian Cancer Risk Reducing Surgery: A Decision-Making Resource

Inherited ovarian cancer clues

About 10 percent of all ovarian cancers are due to an inherited gene change. Some clues of an inherited ovarian cancer pattern are:

  • Having a family history of ovarian cancer in one or more relatives
  • Breast and ovarian cancer in multiple generations on the same side of the family
  • Early age of diagnosis for a breast cancer or ovarian cancer (younger than 50)
  • Breast and ovarian cancer or two breast cancers in the same family member
  • Seeing ovarian cancer with other cancers in the family, such as colon cancer, uterine cancer, or pancreatic cancer
  • Being a member of a family with a known mutation in a ovarian cancer susceptibility gene (BRCA1/2 or Lynch Syndrome)