These 5 risk factors are associated with ovarian cancer

September 2019

The disease can be hard to detect early on.

As one of the most common cancers found in women, ovarian cancer is a scary thing to think about. Forming on or in an ovary, it has the ability to spread to other parts of the body, like the abdomen and pelvis, undetected. If caught and treated at an early stage, the disease is often manageable, and treatment usually involves a combination of chemotherapy and surgery.

The disease can be hard to catch, as it rarely causes any symptoms, but advanced-stage ovarian cancer may cause symptoms like:

  • Discomfort in the pelvic area
  • Abdominal swelling or bloating
  • A frequent need to urinate
  • Getting full quickly when eating
  • Constipation or changes in bowel movements

Some risk factors that can be associated with ovarian cancer:

  1. Obesity

Obesity has been linked to a higher risk of developing cancers, along with plenty of other health issues such as diabetes and heart disease. Obese women (those with a body mass index of at least 30) may have a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer.

  1. Family history

Your risk of developing the condition can be higher if someone in your family has or has had it. If you are concerned about your family’s history (on your mother or your father’s side) with the disease you should contact your doctor for more information and potential screenings.

A family history of some other types of cancer like colorectal and breast cancer is also linked to an increased risk of ovarian cancer. 

  1. Getting older

As is the case with most cancers, the risk of developing it gets higher with age. Women over the age of 40 tend to have a higher risk, and most cases of ovarian cancer occur in women who have already gone through menopause.

  1. Having children at a later stage

Women who have their first full-term pregnancy after the age of 35 have a higher risk of ovarian cancer. A study from the University of Oxford has also found that the likelihood of developing the disease decreases with each further baby. A woman’s risk of ovarian cancer seems to increase with the number of times over her life that she ovulates. Because of this, scientists speculate that pregnancy lowers the risk of ovarian cancer because it prevents ovulation for nine months.

  1. Hormone replacement therapy

Women using hormone replacement therapy after menopause have an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, the risk seems to be higher in women taking oestrogen alone (without progesterone) for a long period of time. The increased risk is less certain for women taking both oestrogen and progesterone.

Eating healthy foods

A healthy and balanced diet has a number of great physical benefits, but according to Gert Coetzee, pharmacist and founder of The Diet Everyone Talks About, ‘It is essential for you to care about your diet if you are diagnosed with ovarian cancer, as your body will require some nutrients to stay strong and healthy.’ Include lots of vegetables in your diet.

Add whole grains to your diet

Whole grains offer the benefits of natural plant compounds, which could lower your risks of developing ovarian cancer, something refined grains can’t do.


Blueberries are loaded with antioxidants that have been shown to help prevent the development of cancer. This is because they contain phytochemicals known as anthocyanins.


Fish is low in fats and kilojoules, and packed with protein. It also contains omega-3 fatty acids, which can also help prevent the development of cancers by limiting the blood supply to cancer cells.


Tomatoes contain an anti-angiogenic agent called lycopene. This is an oxidant that fights free radicals, which can play a significant role in the development of cancers such as ovarian cancer.

Note: It is very important to remember that a diet can only help you so far, and you should contact a professional doctor if you are experiencing symptoms or have been diagnosed and require treatment.