About Ovarian Cancer

About Ovarian Cancer Mobile


When living with or caring for someone with ovarian cancer, educating yourself on the condition can help you become familiar with what to expect. Select a topic below to learn more.

Generally, cancer occurs when cells inside of the body begin to abnormally grow and spread. Ovarian cancer is a type of cancer that can originate in the ovaries or the fallopian tubes.1

Diagram depicting a cancerous ovary
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About 20,000

women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer annually2 

Types of Ovarian Cancer

The ovaries are primarily made up of germ cells, epithelial cells,

and stromal cells. Because cancer can originate in each type of these cells, there are several types of ovarian cancer.1,3

Epithelial Ovarian Cancer3
  • Develops in a thin layer of tissue that covers the ovaries
  • Is the most common type of ovarian cancer—9 out of 10 cases are epithelial cancer
  • Is most common in those who are postmenopausal
Germ Cell Carcinoma3
  • Begins in germ cells that form eggs
  • Is uncommon and accounts for approximately 5% of ovarian cancer cases
  • Found more often in young women or adolescent girls
Stromal Carcinoma3
  • Forms in the connective tissue cells that hold the ovaries together
  • Accounts for about 5% of ovarian cancer cases
  • Is diagnosed at stage I in most cases
Small Cell Carcinoma of the Ovary3
  • Is a highly malignant tumor
  • Accounts for 0.1% of ovarian cancer cases
  • Is very rare and mainly affects those in their 20s

Recognizing Ovarian Cancer symptoms

Because early diagnosis is key, it is important to recognize the signs of ovarian cancer.4 This can be difficult because some of these symptoms are similar to common health conditions.5 Therefore, it is very important to listen to your body and note any persistent irregularities that may arise.

Most common symptoms5
  • Bloating
  • Pelvic/abdominal pain or pressure
  • Trouble eating or feeling full quickly
  • Urinary symptoms (urgency or frequency)
Other symptoms6
  • Fatigue
  • Upset stomach or heartburn
  • Back pain
  • Constipation
  • Pain during sex
  • Menstrual changes
These symptoms are more likely to be linked to ovarian cancer if they are5
  • New and began less than 1 year ago
  • Occur frequently and are experienced more than 12 days per month

It is important for anyone who experiences these symptoms to talk to their doctor.

Similar to first diagnosis, symptoms of recurrence may include5:

Abdominal Icon

Abdominal pain,
swelling, or bloating

Urinary Tract Icon

Urinary Issues

Fatigue Icon


Pelvic Icon

Pelvic & lower
back pain

Bowels Icon

Changes in
bowel movements

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CA-125 Levels

Talk to your doctor about routine gynecologic care and annual pelvic exams, as screening is recommended to detect for recurrence.7


Ovarian cancer diagnosis

Many symptoms of ovarian cancer are also common ailments. It is important to be persistent and proactive in keeping your doctor informed to help foster earlier diagnosis. This is especially critical if common ailments like food sensitivities and gastrointestinal complications have been ruled out.5

A variety of tests can be used to diagnose ovarian cancer8

  • Imaging
  • Biopsy
  • Blood tests
Examples of tests8
  • Transvaginal ultrasound
  • CT scan
  • MRI scan
  • PET-CT scan
  • Chest X-ray
  • Laparoscopy
  • Colonoscopy
  • Pelvic/abdominal ultrasound
  • CA-125
PAP smears conducted during physical examinations do not identify ovarian cancer.8

ovarian cancer Stages at Diagnosis

To stage ovarian cancer, tissue samples are taken during surgery. Ovarian cancer is typically given one of 4 stages at diagnosis9:


who is at increased risk for ovarian cancer?

There are several risk factors that can increase or decrease the likelihood that a person will develop ovarian cancer.

Factors that increase risk10


  • Family history of ovarian cancer in immediate family members
  • Family or personal history of ovarian cancer or breast cancer with either a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation
  • Lynch syndrome
  • Peutz-Jeghers syndrome
  • Cowden disease

Drug Use:

  • Estrogen and hormone therapy
  • Fertility drug


  • Advanced age (entering and post menopause)
  • Obesity (a body mass index ≥30)
Factors that Decrease risk10


  • Childbirth
  • Tubal ligation
  • Breastfeeding

Drug Use:

  • Oral contraceptive

Understanding family history

Can ovarian cancer run in families?

In short answer, yes. One of the biggest factors that can contribute to an increased risk of ovarian cancer is family history. Many people don’t think to associate family history when dealing with a cancer diagnosis. The reality is, if someone in your close family has cancer, you may be at an increased risk for that cancer as well, due to certain genetic characteristics.11

This is especially important for those in certain racial and ethnic groups, such as African Americans, Hispanics and Asians. In fact, non-Hispanic white people are more likely to be referred for genetic testing due to family cancer history than all other ethnicities.11

Minority patients were more likely to utilize genetic services following a cancer diagnosis and less likely due to family cancer history.11

How does your family history impact your risk?

Within each and every one of us are genes or parts of DNA that carry the information needed to make a protein.12 Each person will inherit a copy of a gene from each parent, and it is our genes that determine virtually everything about us – the color of our hair, how tall we are, and whether or not we may have an increased risk for certain diseases, such as ovarian cancer.10,12 It is important to note that you can inherit the risk of ovarian cancer from your mother or father.10

How do I learn more about my family history?13

The best place to start is by having a conversation with those in your close family. Here are some things you should find out from close family members, to assess your risk of developing diseases, such as ovarian cancer:

  • Sex, date of birth and ethnicity
  • Medical conditions they are aware of, and at what age they were diagnosed
  • Mental health conditions
  • Complications with pregnancy or other reproductive issues
  • Lifestyle habits, such as diet, exercise and tobacco use

This is also important to note for any of your close relatives who may be deceased.

Other places you can look for information are:13

  • Public records (birth certificates, death certificates)
  • Obituaries
  • Baby books

Some families may be reluctant to have these types of conversations. If you are finding it hard to discuss this with your family, consider these tips:13

  • Don’t go at this alone; have a sibling or close family member do this with you
  • Explain your reason behind compiling this information
  • Respect your relatives' privacy
  • Listen without judgment

Talk to your family members about their risk of certain diseases, such as breast and ovarian cancer. Learn more about genetic characteristics and testing, here.


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