About Ovarian Cancer

About Ovarian Cancer

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.






What Is Ovarian Cancer?

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 along with the fallopian tube
20,000 U.S. Women Diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer Annually Statistic

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 women who are postmenopausal
Germ Cell Carcinoma3
  • Begins in germ cells that form eggs
  • Accounts for about 5% of ovarian cancer cases
  • Is most common in women in their early 20s
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 women in their 20s

Recognizing the Signs & Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer

Because early diagnosis is key, it is important to recognize the signs of ovarian cancer.4 This can be difficult because some of these signs 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 any woman who experiences these symptoms to talk to her doctor.

Similar to first diagnosis, signs and symptoms of recurrence may include7:

Ovarian Cancer Symptoms ‐ Abdominal pain, swelling, or bloating

Abdominal pain,
swelling, or bloating

Ovarian Cancer Symptoms ‐ Urinary issues

Urinary Issues

Ovarian Cancer Symptoms ‐ Fatigue


Ovarian Cancer Symptoms ‐ Pelvic & lower back pain

Pelvic & lower
back pain

Ovarian Cancer Symptoms ‐ Changes in bowel movements

Changes in
bowel movements

Ovarian Cancer Symptoms ‐ Elevated CA‐ 125 levels

CA-125 Levels

Talk to your doctor about routine gynecologic care and annual pelvic exams, as screening is recommended to detect for recurrence.8


Getting Diagnosed

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 cancer9
  • Imaging
  • Biopsy
  • Blood tests
Examples of tests9
  • 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.9

Staging at Diagnosis

To stage ovarian cancer, tissue samples are taken during surgery. Ovarian cancer is typically given one of 4 stages at diagnosis10:

Diagram depicting spread of ovarian cancer in the body with each stage of the disease

Who Is at Increased Risk for Ovarian Cancer?

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

Factors that increase risk11


  • 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 risk11


  • Childbirth
  • Tubal ligation
  • Breastfeeding

Drug Use:

  • Oral contraceptive

Using Genetic Testing to Determine Risk

Testing for the BRCA gene can help determine if a person is at an increased risk for developing cancer.12

What are BRCA1 and BRCA2?
  • BRCA1 and BRCA2 are human genes that produce proteins that repair damaged DNA and support DNA stability12
  • These genes can be passed down from one generation to the next12
What does a positive test for BRCA mean?
  • A positive BRCA test (also referred to as BRCA mutation or BRCAmut) means a person has inherited a mutation of BRCA1 or BRCA2. This increases her likelihood of developing certain cancers12
  • It does not predict whether someone will develop cancer12
Who should get genetic testing?

People who have any of the following12:

  • Family history of breast or ovarian cancer
  • Family history of prostate cancer
  • Previous diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer
  • More than 2 BRCA mutation-related cancers in an immediate family member
  • Cancer in both breasts in women
  • Male breast cancer in a family member
  • Breast cancer diagnosed <50 years of age
  • Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry


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