Causes of Ovarian Cancer

The causes of ovarian cancer are not clear. Generally, cancer begins when healthy cells mutate and turn into abnormal cells. Unlike normal cells which grow at a controlled rate and eventually die, cancer cells continue to multiply at abnormal rates and do not die. The cancer cells multiply and accumulate to form tumors. They can also invade neighboring tissue and can break off from the initial tumor to spread through the body.

There are a few recognized risk factors that can lead to the development of ovarian cancer. Some of these are:

  • Risk is lowered by giving birth more often and at a younger age.
  • Genetic defects (BRCA1 and BRCA2) can lead to ovarian cancer.
  • Risk is increased for women with a personal history of breast, uterus, colon or rectal cancer.
  • Risk is increased for women with a family history of breast, uterus, and colon, rectal or ovarian cancer. Such women should consider genetic testing to detect gene mutations that may increase risk.
  • Risk is increased for women who undergo menopausal hormone therapy, taking estrogen without progesterone, for five years or more.
  • Risk increases with age. The majority of deaths from ovarian cancer occur in women 55 years or older.

Having one or more risk factors does not necessarily mean that ovarian cancer is imminent. Conversely, women who do get ovarian cancer do not belong to any of the risk groups apart from the age factor. Women who think they are at a higher risk should discuss their concerns with a physician.