The cause for most cases of ovarian cancer is unknown, but some women are at greater risk. A risk factor increases the chance of developing ovarian cancer. However, it is important to note that a large number of ovarian cancers occur in women without these risk factors and many women who have risk factors do not develop ovarian cancer. The most common risks include:
- Family history: Women with family members diagnosed with breast and/or ovarian cancer might have inherited a diseased gene. Those genes can significantly increase the risk for a woman to develop ovarian cancer.
- Age: most women develop ovarian cancer after menopause and 50 percent are older than 65
- Caucasian women in industrialized countries with a higher standard of living are at higher risk
- Dietary factors such as the consumption of meat, whole milk, and animal fat have been associated with an increased risk in some studies, others have not found this connection
- Evidence suggests a small to moderate positive relation between an increased body mass index
- Having fewer or no children
- Having started periods at early age
- Having your first child after the age of 30
- Menopause occurring after the age of 50
- The use of combined oral contraceptive pill and breastfeeding lowers the risk slightly. Conditions that interfere with normal ovulation (e.g. polycystic ovarian syndrome) also lower the risk slightly.
The symptoms of ovarian cancer can often be described as vague, especially in the early stages of the disease. The majority of women who experience one or two of the listed early symptoms do not have cancer. However, it is important that you seek medical advice if the symptoms are unusual or persist.
- Vague abdominal pain or pressure
- Feeling of abdominal fullness, gas, nausea, indigestion – different to your normal sensations
- Sudden abdominal swelling, weight gain or bloating
- Persistent changes in bowel or bladder patterns
- Low backache or cramps
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding
- Pain during intercourse
- Unexplained weight loss