The Link Between Ovarian Cancer & Age

The Link Between Ovarian Cancer & Age

Risk Factors for Ovarian Cancer

There are various links between the development of ovarian cancer and age. Not only does the rate of ovarian cancer increase with age, but several known risk factors involve a woman’s age for certain reproductive events.

Risk Factors Related to Increased Age

Ovarian cancer is relatively rare in women under the age of 40, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). Fifty percent of all cases of ovarian cancer involve women aged 63 or older, and the highest recorded rates are women aged 55 to 64. The cancer is most likely to occur after a woman has reached menopause. Following is a breakdown of new cases by age group.

Age GroupPercentage of New Cases *
under 201.2%
84 and up8.1%

* SEER Report, 2007-2011 (latest research available)

Survival rates also vary by age group. The highest death rate occurs among women aged 75 to 84. The median age at death is 71. Following is a breakdown of death rates by age group.

Age GroupPercent of Deaths*
under 200.1%
84 and up14.2%

* SEER Report, 2007-2011 (latest research available)

When ovarian cancer is diagnosed and treated in the earliest stages, the outlook is much better than when it is discovered later.

Learn more about ovarian cancer prognosis, life expectancy, and survival rates »

Risk Factors Related to Reproductive Events

The age at which a woman reaches certain reproductive events also plays a factor in developing ovarian cancer. The first age factor involves menstruation. If you had your first period before age 12, you have a somewhat higher risk of ovarian cancer than women who were older when they started having periods. Later in life, women who reach menopause after age 50 have a higher risk than women who experienced an earlier menopause.

Did You Know?
Never giving birth increases your risk.

Two other factors are the age at which you first became pregnant and how many pregnancies you’ve had. If you carried a baby to term before your 26th birthday, your risk of ovarian cancer is lower than for women who did not. After that, each full-term pregnancy lowers the risk a little bit more. Having your first baby after your 35th birthday, or never having a baby, increases your risk.

Other Risk Factors for Ovarian Cancer

Did You Know?
Having breast cancer puts you at greater risk.

Age is a big factor, but it isn’t the only risk factor for ovarian cancer. Family history also plays a role. You’re more likely to develop ovarian cancer if your mother, sister, or daughter has had it. There are certain gene mutations, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2, that significantly raise the risk. You can acquire these mutations from both your mother and your father. BRCA gene mutations also increase the risk of breast cancer.

Women who have previously been diagnosed with breast cancer are also at higher risk of ovarian cancer. Obesity, especially if you have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more, also puts you at increased risk.

Infertility or using fertility drugs may lead to greater risk. The same is true of hormone replacement therapy after menopause, particularly if you take estrogen alone for five years or more.

It’s important to keep in mind that having multiple risk factors doesn’t mean you’re destined to have ovarian cancer. On the other hand, some women with no risk factors other than being female will get it.

Lowering Your Risk Factors

Did You Know?
Taking birth control lowers your risk for up to five years after you stop.

There are a few things you can do that may lower your risk. The first is taking birth control pills or oral contraceptives. Being on the pill for as little as three to six months may lower your risk. This benefit goes on for years after you stop taking them. Breastfeeding may also lower your chances of developing ovarian cancer.

Having your tubes tied (tubal ligation) can lower your risk by about two-thirds. Removal of the uterus (hysterectomy) can reduce your risk by about one-third, according to the ACS. In women who have BRCA gene mutations, removing the ovaries can lower risk by 80 to 90 percent, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Researchers don’t know the exact cause of ovarian cancer, but knowing if you’re at an increased risk can be helpful.

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