How do my age and reproductive history affect my risk for ovarian cancer?

David A. Fishman, MD
Gynecologic Oncology
Factors such as age and reproductive history affect a woman's risk of developing ovarian cancer. All women are at some risk of developing ovarian cancer, but two-thirds of ovarian cancers are diagnosed in women who are over the age of 55 years. The median age at diagnosis is 58 years. Most ovarian cancer cases are diagnosed after menopause, when the ovaries have a limited physiological role and consequently abnormal ovarian function causes no symptoms. The incidence rates of ovarian cancer increase throughout a woman's late 70s, before slightly declining among women beyond 80 years of age. Furthermore, unintentionally nulliparous women have an increased risk of being diagnosed with ovarian cancer unless they were on oral contraceptives for more than five years, when their risk is decreased. Conversely, women who have given birth have a lower chance of developing ovarian cancer; in general, the lifetime risk of developing ovarian cancer decreases with each live birth.

Statistically a woman is at increased risk of developing ovarian cancer if she has: started menstruating at an early age (commonly before 12 years), has not given birth to any children, had her first child after 30, experienced menopause after 50, and has never taken oral contraceptives. A study involving more than 110,000 women from 21 countries showed that women who took oral contraceptives for five years had a 50% decreased risk of developing ovarian cancer. The same study noted the risk for ovarian cancer in women who continued taking oral contraceptives for approximately 15 years was almost halved and was decreasing with continual use.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.