Protective factors: reducing the risk of ovarian cancer

Find out about the factors that may reduce the risk of developing ovarian cancer.

It's important to consider factors that may reduce the risk of ovarian cancer.  While they may lower the risk, they won't completely prevent you from developing ovarian cancer, so it’s important to continue to look out for the symptoms

The contraceptive pill

The combined contraceptive pill is known to almost halve the risk of ovarian cancer if you take it for 10 years or more. But you and your GP need to weigh up the benefits and other possible health risks of taking the combined contraceptive pill. 

Pregnancy and breastfeeding

Pregnancy and breastfeeding combine to reduce the chance of developing ovarian cancer. But they don't guarantee that you won't develop ovarian cancer. Having more ovulatory cycles raises the risk of ovarian cancer, so fewer cycles reduces the risk. Anyone who has multiple pregnancies and breastfeeds won't ovulate (produce eggs) as much during their lifetime. This is because during pregnancy the ovaries don't ovulate and breast feeding delays the start of ovulation following a pregnancy. These combine to reduce the risk. 

Hysterectomy and/or having your tubes tied

You may opt to have your fallopian tubes tied if you don't want any more children. This is called sterilisation. It's known to reduce ovarian cancer risk. Before, it was also thought that those who had had a hysterectomy (surgical removal of the womb) had a lower risk of developing ovarian cancer. But the benefits of this are now unclear and depend on factors such as the age you have the surgery. Having a hysterectomy and having your ovaries removed is known to reduce the risk of ovarian cancer. But you should weigh up the benefits and risks associated with having your ovaries removed with your doctor.

Other FAQs relating to the risk and prevention of ovarian cancer

Do ovarian cysts increase the risk of ovarian cancer?

Ovarian cysts are very common and can affect you at any age. They're more frequent in those of childbearing age because they're linked to ovulation. Very often a cyst develops and disappears without you even knowing that you had one. These cysts aren’t known to increase the risk of ovarian cancer. There's a slightly higher risk of developing ovarian cancer for those that are older. So current guidelines from the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology recommend that those who are post-menopausal with a cyst should be monitored with a CA125 blood test and a transvaginal ultrasound (TVU). 

Does polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) increase the risk of ovarian cancer?

While PCOS affects millions worldwide, currently there's no strong evidence to suggest that having PCOS increases the risk of developing ovarian cancer. Find out more about PCOS.

Can any specific diet reduce my risk of ovarian cancer?

A good diet and regular exercise can reduce your risk slightly, as those who are obese have a slightly increased risk of developing ovarian cancer. Including vegetables (such as broccoli, cabbage and onions) with low cholesterol in your diet may also be beneficial. There has been a variety of research to try to understand if there's any link between different types of diet and ovarian cancer. So far this research has been inconclusive. 

Is there a link between irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and ovarian cancer?

Symptoms of IBS are very similar to ovarian cancer and include tummy pain, bloating, diarrhoea or constipation. Sometimes ovarian cancer is misdiagnosed as IBS. It's important to note that IBS very rarely presents for the first time in those over the age of 50. If you’re over this age with these symptoms you should be given tests for ovarian cancer.

Will having IVF increase my risk of ovarian cancer? 

News reports have suggested that IVF increases the risk of ovarian cancer by one-third. But, the actual increase is very small, with a risk of 2 in 2,000 increasing to 3 in 2,000. It's suggested that the small increase in risk may not be due to the IVF treatment directly. Instead it may potentially be due to the underlying biological causes of infertility on the female side.  A recent study of 30,000 IVF patients showed that there was no increase in risk of ovarian cancer from having IVF treatment. But it‘s important to note that the study only looked at those up to 56 years old on average yet the risk of ovarian cancer increases with age.  

Last reviewed: April 2022

To learn more about our review process, take a look at our information standards.