Ovarian cancer is when cancer cells start and grow in the ovaries. The ovaries make eggs for reproduction and female hormones.
There are different types of ovarian cancer. They include:
- Epithelial— the most common, found on the surface of the ovary
- Germ cell tumors—from the reproductive cells
- Stromal cancers—rare, from the connective cells
|Cancerous Mass in the Left Ovary|
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Cancer happens when cells divide without control or order. These cells grow together to form a tumor. They can invade and damage nearby tissues. They can also spread to other parts of the body.
It is not clear what causes changes in the cells. It is likely a combination of genes and environment.
Ovarian cancer is most common in women age 50 or older. Other things that may raise the risk are:
- Early first menstrual period and/or late menopause
- Family history of ovarian cancer—especially in a mother or sister
- BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes
- No childbirth or breastfeeding
- Not having tubal ligation
- Certain health conditions, such as:
- A history of breast cancer or uterine cancer
- Hormone replacement therapy
Symptoms often only appear in the later stages. They may be:
- Belly discomfort, pain, or feeling sick
- Gas, indigestion, bloating, or cramps
- Loose stools or constipation
- Loss of hunger
- Weight gain or loss—without trying
- Abnormal bleeding from the vagina
- Feeling tired
- Problems breathing
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical and pelvic exam will be done.
Tests may include:
- Blood tests—to look for certain tumor markers
- Biopsy—a sample of tissue is taken from the ovary and tested
Imaging tests will look for tumors and the spreading of cancer. They include:
- Ultrasound of the pelvic organs
- CT scan
- MRI scan
- Lower GI series or barium enema
Diagnosis is confirmed by the biopsy. The exam and test results are also used for staging. Staging outlines how far and fast cancer has spread.
The goal is to remove the cancer. Treatment depends on the type and stage of the cancer. A combination of treatments may be used. Options may include:
- Surgery—to remove the cancer, and often the nearby tissues, such as:
- The uterus and fallopian tubes
- Lymph nodes
- Chemotherapy by mouth, injections, or IV—to kill the cancer cells
Radiation therapy may be used to treat areas where the cancer has spread.
The risk of ovarian cancer may be reduced by:
- Eating a low fat, high fiber diet with lots of vegetables
- Surgery to remove the ovaries and fallopian tubes—in women with a genetic or family history of ovarian cancer
- Taking birth control pills
American Cancer Society https://www.cancer.org
National Cancer Institute https://www.cancer.gov
Canadian Cancer Society http://www.cancer.ca
Health Canada https://www.canada.ca
General information about ovarian epithelial, fallopian tube, and primary peritoneal cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/ovarian/patient/ovarian-epithelial-treatment-pdq. Accessed March 17, 2021.
Ovarian cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/ovarian-cancer.html. Accessed March 17, 2021.
Ovarian cancer. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/ovarian-cancer. Accessed March 17, 2021.
Tew WP. Ovarian cancer in the older woman. J Geriatr Oncol. 2016;7(5):354-61.
- Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP
- Review Date: 01/2021
- Update Date: 03/17/2021