Channing Ovarian Cancer Research

Approximately 22,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with ovarian cancer every year. While it is the eleventh most common cancer, ovarian cancer is the fifth most common cause of cancer deaths, responsible for over 14,000 deaths each year.

Risk factors for epithelial ovarian cancer overall include age and family history of ovarian cancer, while oral contraceptive use and tubal ligation are associated with lower risk. Some risk factors are specific to the subtype of ovarian cancer: serous, endometrioid, mucinous, and clear cell tumors. For example, higher body mass index appears to be more strongly associated with risk of endometrioid tumors, and genital talc use appears to be more strongly associated with risk of serous tumors, while having children appears to protect against endometrioid and clear cell tumors.

Current research

Channing Division of Network Medicine (CDNM) investigators have built a comprehensive research strategy to:

  • Study the epidemiology of ovarian cancer
  • Identify heterogeneity in risk factors by ovarian cancer subtype
  • Utilize biomarkers to understand underlying biological mechanisms
  • Develop and contribute to international consortia to leverage the power of shared data

We use a multidisciplinary approach to understand ovarian cancer etiology and heterogeneity, and to identify opportunities for prevention.


CDNM ovarian cancer researchers have made important contributions to our understanding of ovarian cancer risk factors, including reproductive history, lifestyle factors, and circulating biomarkers. These are highlighted in the following publication:

Nurses' Health Study Contributions on the Epidemiology of Less Common Cancers: Endometrial, Ovarian, Pancreatic, and Hematologic.

Birmann BM, Barnard ME, Bertrand KA, Bao Y, Crous-Bou M, Wolpin BM, De Vivo I, Tworoger SS. Am J Public Health. 2016;106(9):1608–1615. PMCID: PMC4981809

Utilizing the prospective Nurses’ Health Study (NHS) and Nurses’ Health Study II (NHS II), our focus is on the following areas:

Reproductive and lifestyle factors

With comprehensive biennial questionnaires collected over more than 40 years, CDNM researchers conduct epidemiologic studies to better understand the influence of reproductive history, medication usage, diet, and lifestyle factors on ovarian cancer risk.

Circulating biomarkers

Utilizing biospecimens collected in NHS and NHSII, we conduct nested case-control studies to understand the associations between circulating biomarkers in healthy women and subsequent ovarian cancer risk. Completed and ongoing studies include the investigation of hormones, markers of inflammation, and metabolomics.

Disease heterogeneity

We have expanded our understanding that risk factor associations may differ by ovarian cancer subtype. In addition to the three main subtypes of epithelial ovarian cancer, we utilize archived tumor tissue specimens to explore novel tumor markers. While survival is limited after ovarian cancer diagnoses, we are also exploring the etiology of more rapidly fatal tumors to better understand disease heterogeneity.

National and international collaborations

As founding members of the NCI Cohort Consortium, CDNM has led and contributed to many investigations that leverage the strength in numbers by joining forces with other cohort studies.

In addition to this effort, we founded the Ovarian Cancer Cohort Consortium. We also contribute to the Ovarian Cancer Association Consortium, and the Collaborative Group on Epidemiological Studies of Ovarian Cancer. Through these efforts, we are working to develop much needed ovarian cancer risk prediction models.