Ovarian cancer

Medical quality assurance by Dr. Albrecht Nonnenmacher, MD at January 24, 2016
StartDiseasesOvarian cancer

Ovarian cancer is a disease that originates inside the ovaries. The ovaries are the female reproductive organs that manufacture eggs or ova. Although this type of cancer is fairly rare, it leads to higher numbers of fatalities than other cancers that affect female reproductive organs.


Definition & Facts

Ovarian cancer develops inside of the ovaries and can sometimes spread to other organs or metastasize. Ovarian cancer constitutes roughly 3 percent of cancer cases in all females. This cancer appears more often in women who are older; approximately 50 percent of females who get this type of cancer are at least 63 years in age. Although rare, it's possible for younger females to get it as well. Caucasian females tend to experience ovarian cancer more frequently than African-American females.

Symptoms & Complaints

Females with ovarian cancer often lack any symptoms until the condition is advanced. Possible symptoms and complaints that are associated with ovarian cancer include:

Some women confuse signs of advanced ovarian cancer with signs of medical ailments that are markedly less serious in nature. A woman may believe that a symptom of ovarian cancer is a symptom of something like irritable bowel syndrome for example. If a woman develops ovarian cancer, symptoms will generally persist and intensify over time.


Although the exact cause of ovarian cancer isn't certain, there are numerous factors that can make some women much more vulnerable to developing the disease. Heredity is one of them. Some women get this cancer due to the presence of a genetic mutation that's passed on down to them. Genetic mutations that can lead to ovarian cancer can be situated inside of BRCA1 (breast cancer gene 1) or BRCA2 (breast cancer gene 2). These gene mutations are especially common in women of both Ashkenazi Jewish and Eastern European heritage.

Estrogen hormone replacement therapy is also associated with ovarian cancer, and other key factors include age (as indicated previously, this cancer is prevalent in older females), early menstruation, late menopause, fertility treatments, polycystic ovary syndrome, intrauterine device use and smoking. Women who haven't been pregnant also tend to be more susceptible to getting ovarian cancer.

Diagnosis & Tests

Doctors generally perform multiple tests in order to diagnosis this form of cancer in women. Examples of these tests are physical examinations, laboratory tests, pelvic examinations, biopsies and ultrasounds. Blood tests can also aid in diagnosing ovarian cancer by testing for the presence of CA-125, which is a protein situated on the top sections of ovarian cancer cells.

If a woman gets a pelvic examination, the doctor can look for an ovarian lump upon which a biopsy may be taken and studied in order to determine if the woman definitively has cancer. Doctors sometimes perform rectovaginal examinations. They do this as a means of contacting the pelvic organs. Transvaginal ultrasounds and pelvic ultrasounds enable doctors to search thoroughly for ovarian lumps.

MRIs or abdominal or pelvic CT scans are sometimes performed to diagnosis ovarian cancer in women as well. These tests can be effective in figuring out if ovarian cancer has moved onto other areas of a woman's body. Imaging tests can be beneficial for viewing the ovaries in great depth, helping doctors detect any abnormalities in the shape, size, and structure of the ovaries.

Treatment & Therapy

There are numerous different forms of ovarian cancer treatment available to women. Surgery is used and would entail the extraction of the ovaries. It also typically entails the extraction of lymph nodes, the uterus and the Fallopian tubes. When doctors perform this surgery, they attempt to take out significant amounts of cancer located inside of the abdomen.

Chemotherapy is another treatment for women who have ovarian cancer. This therapy is usually conducted post-surgery. The goal of chemotherapy is to destroy ovarian cancer cells that may be left. If a woman has an advanced type of ovarian cancer, chemotherapy may be her first line of treatment.

Two specific varieties of chemotherapy are used to treat ovarian cancer. These two varieties are neoadjuvant chemotherapy and intraperitoneal chemotherapy. Radiation is yet another ovarian cancer treatment option as are drugs such as angiogenesis inhibitors which are often used in concert with chemotherapy.

Prevention & Prophylaxis

It may be possible to minimize the risk of developing ovarian cancer by eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise. Women who have taken oral contraceptives (birth control pills) for over a decade tend to be less vulnerable to the development of ovarian cancer as well.