Ovarian Cancer: Risk Factors & Symptoms

The cause of ovarian cancer is unknown, however there are certain risk factors that can increase your chance of developing the disease.

Risk Factors

  • Reproductive history

    If you have no children or have your first child after the age of 35, your risk is higher
  • Age

    Ovarian cancer usually affects women who have been through the menopause.
  • Family history of cancer

    If you have two or more close relatives (mother, sister or daughter) who have had ovarian cancer or breast cancer, you may be at a higher risk of the disease. There is also a very small risk of ovarian cancer if your family have the genetic mutation known as Lynch Syndrome.
  • Taking HRT

    If you take the hormone oestrogen for 5 or more years, your risk of ovarian cancer may be higher. This risk decreases once you stop taking it.
  • Fertility treatments

    Some research has shown that there is an increased risk of ovarian cancer in women who have fertility treatment, however, other studies have found that this is not the case. Fertility drugs are also linked to a higher risk of ovarian cancer.
  • Obesity

    Several studies have shown that there may be a link between ovarian cancer and obesity.

Reducing your risk

The following may reduce your risk of ovarian cancer: 

  • Taking the combined oral contraceptive pill

    Research has shown that the longer you take the pill, the more your risk is reduced.
  • Having children

    The more children you have the more your risk is reduced, because when you are pregnant you do not ovulate. The fewer times you ovulate over your lifetime, the less chance you have of developing ovarian cancer.
  • Breastfeeding

    Breastfeeding may lower a woman’s risk of developing ovarian cancer.

Having a risk factor doesn’t mean you will definitely get cancer. Sometimes people with no risk factors get the disease.

If you are worried, talk to your GP or talk to one of the amazing Irish Cancer Society cancer nurses. Call the Cancer Nurseline on 1800 200 700.

Symptoms of ovarian cancer

Ovarian cancer can be hard to spot at first, as there may be no symptoms or only mild, vague symptoms early on.

Symptoms include:

  • Feeling bloated
  • Persistent swollen tummy 
  • Pain or dragging sensation in your lower abdomen, back or legs
  • Vague indigestion or nausea
  • Poor appetite and feeling full quickly
  • Changes in your bowel or bladder habits: E.g. constipation or needing to pass water urgently
  • Feeling tired all the time
  • Irregular periods or bleeding after menopause
  • Pain during sex
  • Abnormal vaginal discharge or bleeding (rare)

It is important to note that all of these symptoms can be caused by conditions other than cancer, but it is important to go to your GP and get any unusual changes checked out. 

If you are worried about ovarian cancer, talk to your GP or to one of the amazing Irish Cancer Society cancer nurses. Call the Cancer Nurseline on 1800 200 700.


Information from Irish Cancer Society