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Nurse listing ovarian cancer causes

 Ovarian cancer begins in the cells of the ovaries—the pair of female organs in the pelvic area that produce ova (eggs) for reproduction. While ovarian cancer isn’t as common as breast or uterine cancers, it’s more dangerous and requires a robust treatment approach.

What causes ovarian cancer? 

The specific causes of ovarian cancer are unclear. In general, ovarian cancer—like other forms of cancer—develops when genetic mutations (changes) transform normal, healthy cells into abnormal cells that divide and multiply in an unorderly fashion. The resulting accumulation of cells can form a tumor that may become malignant, invade nearby tissues and spread to other tissues and organs throughout the body.

DNA mutations

While the causes of ovarian cancer are not completely understood, the scientific community continues to make progress in learning how certain DNA mutations that occur in the cells of the ovaries can lead to a buildup that eventually becomes cancerous.

Inherited genetic mutations

There are certain inherited genetic mutations that can cause healthy ovarian cells to become cancerous, including mutations of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Mutations can also occur in genes that are associated with other family cancer syndromes such as PTEN tumor hamartoma syndrome, Peutz-Jeghers syndrome, MUTYH-associated polyposis and hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer.

Acquired genetic changes

Most often, a mutation that causes ovarian cancer is acquired, rather than inherited, meaning that the genetic changes occur during the course of the woman’s lifetime as opposed to being present at birth. However, studies have not yet pinpointed any specific reasons that may be causing these mutations.

Ovarian cancer risk factors 

Several ovarian cancer risk factors have been identified, but risk factors don’t tell the whole story of how cancer develops. For example, many women who have one or more risk factors never develop ovarian cancer. On the other hand, some women with ovarian cancer have no known risk factors. Even when a woman with ovarian cancer does have a risk factor, it is impossible to determine whether it actually contributed in any way to the development of her cancer.

Ovarian cancer risk factors you can change  

There are a few established risk factors for ovarian cancer that can be controlled, including:

  • Estrogen exposure – Women who take estrogen-only hormone replacement therapy (HRT) after menopause have a higher risk of ovarian cancer.
  • Obesity – Women who are obese in early adulthood are more likely to develop ovarian cancer.

Ovarian cancer risk factors you can’t change  

On the other hand, most ovarian risk factors can’t be changed. For example:

  • Age – The risk for developing ovarian cancer increases with age, particularly after age 55.
  • Family history – Women who have a first-degree relative (mother, daughter, or sister) with ovarian cancer have a higher risk, which increases further when two or more first- or second-degree (grandmother or aunt) relatives have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
  • Genetics – A mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene is associated with an increased risk of ovarian and other cancers.
  • Personal history of breast cancer – A breast cancer diagnosis can increase a woman’s risk for ovarian cancer, even when she tests negative for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic mutations.
  • Reproductive history – Women who began menstruating before age 12, have never been pregnant, have unexplained infertility, have never taken oral contraceptives, had their first child after age 30 or experienced menopause after age 55 have an increased risk of ovarian cancer.

Common ovarian cancer causes and risk factor FAQs  

Take a closer look at ovarian cancer causes and risk factors by browsing some frequently asked questions on this topic:

Moffitt’s approach to ovarian cancer 

The multispecialty team at Moffitt Cancer Center’s gynecological clinic is committed to conducting groundbreaking clinical trials and delivering highly individualized care to better prevent, diagnose and treat ovarian cancer. This patient-first focus ensures we remain firmly positioned at the forefront of cancer treatment. In recognition of our research efforts, the National Cancer Institute has designated Moffitt as the only Comprehensive Cancer Center based in Florida, and national experts consistently rank Moffitt among the top 1% of cancer centers in the U.S.

To discuss your ovarian cancer risk factors, consult with a genetic counselor or learn more about Moffitt’s ovarian cancer treatment options, call 1-888-663-3488 or complete a new patient registration form online. A referral isn’t necessary to visit Moffitt, and you’ll be matched with the right clinician for your needs as soon as possible.