Risk Factors for Ovarian Cancer

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  • 0:39 Age
  • 1:46 Diet
  • 3:11 Family History
  • 4:29 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Heather Adewale

Heather has taught reproductive biology and has researched neuro, repro and endocrinology. She has a PhD in Zoology/Biology.

Do you know how to tell if you or someone you know is at risk for ovarian cancer? Watch this lesson to learn about some of the more common risk factors for developing ovarian caner.

Risk Factors

How do you know if you or your spouse, mother or patient is at risk for developing ovarian cancer? Well, first and foremost, you do have to have ovaries. But what about other risk factors? While there are a couple different risk factors thought to be associated with ovarian cancer, we will look at some of the more common ones. Many of the risk factors we will talk about are also risk factors for other diseases as well, so it's important to tell your doctor about any risk factors that might increase your chances of developing not only ovarian cancer but other disorders.


So, first up, age. That's right, the older a woman is, the greater her chance for developing ovarian cancer. Man, aging just brings with it all sorts of problems, doesn't it? Not only do you gain weight and wrinkles and a decline in health, but cancer, too? But why ovarian cancer specifically? Well, most ovarian cancers develop after menopause, or after your ovaries have stopped producing eggs and the hormones that help them grow. And, seeing as this happens later on in life, that means that the risk for developing ovarian cancer increases with age.

However, those women who have had multiple pregnancies or have been on birth control actually decrease their risk of developing ovarian cancer! Good to know, right? The exact mechanisms behind this are unknown, but doctors think it's related to the fact that women who were pregnant or on birth control ovulated less over their lifetime. Ovulation is the release of mature eggs from the ovary.


The next risk factor is diet, or more specifically, obesity. Some studies suggest that women who consume a diet high in red meat or a high-cholesterol and high-fat diet, also associated with obesity, tend to have a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer. Importantly, obesity has also been linked to other cancers, as well as the development of diabetes, so eating a healthy diet not only keeps your body looking good but also helps you fight off diseases!

A healthy diet includes lots of fruits and vegetables, especially yellow and cruciferous vegetables like endive, broccoli, kale and cauliflower. Not only do these have a lower fat and sugar content than other foods, but they also contain lots of vitamins, nutrients and antioxidants. Those are chemicals that help your body fight damaged DNA and other natural cancer-fighting compounds. Fish can also be part of a healthy diet because it contains omega-3 fatty acids, which are good for your heart and may also help protect against cancer.

It's just like that old saying: 'you are what you eat.' Not only may a healthy diet help prevent cancer, but it may also help survival or recovery after a patient has been diagnosed with cancer.

Family History

And of course, family history can also be related to the development of ovarian cancer, specifically a personal or family history of ovarian, breast or colorectal cancer. All of these cancers involve some dependency on the hormone estrogen. Therefore, a history of one estrogen-dependent cancer may increase your chances of developing another.

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