Who Is Most Affected by Ovarian Cancer?

Ovarian cancer can affect anyone with ovaries. However, different groups of people may be more affected because of risk factors or health disparities. Certain groups of people should be monitored or examined more carefully. This can ensure that a diagnosis is not missed and that they get the right treatment.

Women of Ashkenazi Jewish descent

Women of Ashkenazi Jewish descent are of Jewish heritage with Eastern European ancestry. About 1 out of every 40 Ashkenazi Jewish women has a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation.1

Mutations in the BRCA genes increase the risk of developing certain cancers, often at younger ages compared to those who develop these cancers in the general population. This includes breast and ovarian cancers. If a person’s mother or father has a BRCA mutation, they have a 50 percent chance of also having that BRCA mutation.1

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About 30 out of every 100 women with a BRCA mutation will develop ovarian cancer by the time they are 70 years old. This is compared with less than 1 out of every 100 women who do not have a BRCA mutation.1

If you are an Ashkenazi Jewish woman, you should ask your doctor about genetic counseling if:1

  • You have any first-degree relative (mother, daughter, sister) who has been diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer
  • You have 2 second-degree relatives (aunt, grandmother, niece) on the same side of the family that have been diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer

Knowing if you have the BRCA gene can help you make decisions about steps you can take to lower your risk of developing certain cancers. It can also help your doctor make sure you get the right screening to find cancer early when treatment is most effective.

Women of color

Outcomes for Black women with ovarian cancer tend to be worse than those for white women or women of European heritage. Ovarian cancer health disparities have also been found among Latina women and Asian/Pacific Islander women. A health disparity is a health difference that is associated with unequal access to quality healthcare.2

In the United States, research has found that the mortality rate of ovarian cancer in Black women is 1.3 times higher than for white women, even when access to care is equal. Regardless of cancer stage at the time of initial diagnosis, the reported 5-year survival rate for Black women with ovarian cancer is worse than that of white women with the same diagnosis.2

There are a variety of factors that may be behind these differences, including:2

  • Race-based health disparities
  • A higher rate of comorbidities (having 2 or more health conditions at the same time) in women of color, which is also connected to health disparities and access to care
  • Socioeconomic disparities

Some disparities are more obvious, like socioeconomic status and lack of access to care. However, research shows that certain gene mutations and genetic differences may be behind some ovarian cancer disparities. More research is needed to better understand these differences.2

Women of childbearing age

While ovarian cancer rates are highest in women older than childbearing age, some younger women are diagnosed with the disease. Germ cell tumors typically occur in younger women. However, they are not the only type of ovarian cancer that can occur in this group.3

About 12 percent of ovarian cancer is diagnosed in women younger than 44 years old. If these women want to have children, they may want to preserve their fertility. Ovarian cancer and its treatment can impair fertility. Balancing the right treatment and fertility preservation options can be very challenging.4

Older women over 65

More people are living longer now, which means older adults living with cancer are becoming more common. Ovarian cancer rates rise as age increases. Rates are highest for women in their 70s and stay high until around age 80.5

Even though the rate of ovarian cancer is highest in older women, treatment tends to be less aggressive than it is for younger women. This raises questions about whether these women receive the right care and treatment.5

Hereditary factors

Aside from the BRCA mutations, other hereditary factors can play a role in the development of ovarian cancer. These include Lynch syndrome, a family history of ovarian cancer, and hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome (HBOC).

Lynch Syndrome is also called hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC). This syndrome most increases a person’s chance of developing colorectal cancer. However, women with Lynch Syndrome have about a 12 percent lifetime risk of developing ovarian cancer.6

If you have a family history of ovarian cancer, your risk of developing the disease may be higher:7

  • About 1 out of every 100 women without a family history of ovarian cancer will develop the condition
  • About 5 out of every 100 women who have a 1 first-degree relative (mother, daughter, sister) with ovarian cancer will develop the condition
  • About 7 out of every 100 women who have 2 or more relatives with ovarian cancer will develop the condition

Hereditary breast and ovarian cancer (HBOC) syndrome is most commonly linked with BRCA mutations. However, other gene mutations may cause it.

Women with HBOC have a higher risk of breast and ovarian cancers. They tend to develop cancer before the age of 50. HBOC also increases a person’s risk of developing prostate cancer, melanoma, and pancreatic cancer.8

If you have a family history of cancer, talk with your doctor about genetic testing and whether it is right for you. Knowing if genetic factors played a role in your cancer or if you have risk factors can help you get the right cancer screenings and treatment.

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Written by: Jaime Rochelle Herndon | Last reviewed: May 2021