Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

Image of teal ribbon on a woman's chest to symbolise ovarian cancer awareness.

Image of teal ribbon on a woman's chest to symbolise ovarian cancer awareness.
beginning of content

What causes ovarian cancer?

2-minute read

Our bodies are made up of billions of tiny cells. Normally, cells grow and multiply in an orderly way. New cells are only made when and where they're needed.

In cancer, this orderly process goes wrong and cells begin to grow and multiply out of control.

In ovarian cancer, cells in the ovary start to change and grow abnormally. If the cancer is not identified at an early stage, it can spread to nearby parts of the body, including other parts of the female reproductive system.

We don't know the causes of ovarian cancer, but there are risk factors that may make developing the condition more likely. Some of these risk factors cannot be changed, but there may be some that can. Although these factors may increase the risk of ovarian cancer, you can still get it even if none of them apply to you.

Possible causes and risk factors of ovarian cancer

Generally, it's not possible to say what causes ovarian cancer in an individual woman. However, some features are more common among women who have developed ovarian cancer. These features are called risk factors. Having certain risk factors increases a woman's chance of developing ovarian cancer.

Having one or more risk factors for ovarian cancer doesn't mean a woman will definitely develop ovarian cancer. In fact, many women with ovarian cancer have no obvious risk factors.

Known risk factors for ovarian cancer include:

  • getting older: women who are over 50 are more likely to develop ovarian cancer than younger women
  • inheriting a faulty gene (called a gene mutation) that increases the risk of ovarian cancer
  • having a strong family history of ovarian cancer, breast cancer, or some other cancers, including colorectal cancer and endometrial cancer

Only around 5-10% of all ovarian cancers are due to inherited factors.

Research suggests that the risk of ovarian cancer is slightly higher for women who:

Women have a lower risk of developing ovarian cancer if:

  • they had a baby before the age of 26
  • they used oral contraceptives (the pill) for at least 3 months
  • they have had a hysterectomy (removal of the uterus) and tubal ligation (tubes tied)

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: December 2017

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Ovarian cancer - Cancer Council Australia

Find out information about ovarian cancer, including incidence and mortality, screening, symptoms and diagnosis, causes, prevention, treatment and prognosis.

Read more on Cancer Council Australia website

Ovarian Cancer - Information, Treatment & Support - CanTeen

Ovarian cancer is a condition that affects the female organ responsible for hormone and egg production. Learn more about causes and treatments with CanTeen.

Read more on CanTeen website

Ovarian cancer

Ovarian cancer is the growth of abnormal cells in 1 or both ovaries in a womans reproductive system. The earlier the cancer is detected and diagnosed, the better the outcome.

Read more on WA Health website

Ovarian cancer: Overview | Cancer Council Victoria

Key information on Ovarian Cancer, including what it is, how common it is, symptoms, types and risk.

Read more on Cancer Council Victoria website

Ovarian cancer symptoms factsheet - Cancer Council Australia

It is important that ovarian cancer is detected early. Read our patient fact sheet on symptoms, screening and how to reduce the risk of cancer.

Read more on Cancer Council Australia website

Ovarian cancer | Garvan Institute of Medical Research

Read about ovarian cancer symptoms, treatment approaches and Garvan's research into cancer. We use the latest genomic technology to inform personalised treatment and understanding of disease.

Read more on Garvan Institute of Medical Research website

After a diagnosis of ovarian cancer - Cancer Council Australia

Learn more about coping with a diagnosis of ovarian cancer. Read our patient fact sheets that help answer some of the common questions.

Read more on Cancer Council Australia website

About ovarian, fallopian tube and primary peritoneal cancer - Counterpart

Ovarian Cancer - About | Counterpart

Read more on Counterpart - Women supporting women with cancer website

Rare Cancers Australia - Directory - Childhood Ovarian Cancer

Rare Cancers Australia is a charity whose purpose is to improve the lives and health outcomes of Australians living with a rare or less common cancer.

Read more on Rare Cancers Australia website

Ovarian cancer - Lab Tests Online AU

Site map of article content

Read more on Lab Tests Online website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo