The causes of ovarian cancer are not entirely known. Some researchers believe it has to do with tissue-repair process that happens when the ovary releases an egg every month, while others link it to increased hormone levels before and during ovulation.
Below are some potential causes of and risk factors for ovarian cancer:
- Risk factors: Early menstruation (before age 12), not having children, having her first child after the age of 30 and/or going through menopause after the age of 50 all put a woman at higher risk of developing ovarian cancer. Also, menopause itself increases the risk of ovarian cancer, especially if the woman is using hormonal replacement therapy.
- Inherited genetic mutations: The most significant risk factor for ovarian cancer is inherited mutations one of two genes, called breast cancer gene 1 and breast cancer gene 2. While originally associated with breast cancer, as their names suggest, they also cause about 5 to 10 percent of ovarian cancers. Hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HPNCC) is also linked to an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer.
- Ovarian cysts: While cyst formation is a normal part of ovulation for premenopausal women, cysts that form after menopause may become cancerous.
- Hormone replacement therapy (HRT): Long-terms use of HRT (i.e., 10 years or longer) has been associated with increased risk of ovarian cancer.
- Obesity: Obesity in early adulthood—i.e., at the age of 18, is linked to an increased chance of developing ovarian cancer.
- Smoking and alcohol use: The use of cigarettes and alcohol has been linked in some studies to an increased risk of developing one type of ovarian cancer.
- Talcum powder: Odd as it may sound, the use of talcum powder in the genital area may be associated with a small increase in the risk of developing ovarian cancer; researchers believe the link may be asbestos in the powder, though that hasn’t been used in two decades.
- Infertility: Never having been pregnant, even without the use of fertility drugs, is linked to ovarian cancer—especially for women with unexplained fertility and women with infertility who never conceive. In addition, prolonged use of the fertility drug clomiphene citrate, particularly without a successful conception, increases the risk of developing ovarian cancer.
- Other factors: Age (ovarian cancer usually develops after menopause), family history (ovarian cancer tends to develop in more than one family member, and if a close relative has had ovarian cancer, a woman’s chances of developing ovarian cancer are about 5 percent) and childbearing status (women who have carried at least one pregnancy to term have a lower likelihood of developing ovarian cancer) are also associated with ovarian cancer development.