Ovarian cancer is cancer that starts in the ovaries. The ovaries are the female reproductive organs that produce eggs.
Cancer - ovaries
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
Ovarian cancer is the fifth most common cancer among women. It causes more deaths than any other type of female reproductive cancer.
The cause is unknown.
Risk of developing ovarian cancer may be due to:
The fewer children a woman has and the later in life she gives birth, the higher her risk of ovarian cancer.
Certain gene problems (defects in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes) are responsible for a small number of ovarian cancer cases.
Women who have had breast cancer or have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer have an increased risk of ovarian cancer.
Women who take estrogen replacement only (not with progesterone) for 5 years or more may have a high risk of ovarian cancer. Birth control pills, however, decrease the risk of ovarian cancer.
Fertility drugs probably do not increase the risk of ovarian cancer.
Older women are at highest risk of developing ovarian cancer. Most deaths from ovarian cancer occur in women age 55 and older.
Ovarian cancer symptoms are often vague. Women and their doctors often blame the symptoms on other, more common conditions. By the time the cancer is diagnosed, the tumor has often spread beyond the ovaries.
See your doctor if you have the following symptoms on a daily basis for more than a few weeks:
Removal of both ovaries and fallopian tubes (bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy)
Partial or complete removal of the omentum, the fatty layer that covers and pads organs in the abdomen
Examination, biopsy, or removal of the lymph nodes and other tissues in the pelvis and abdomen
Surgery done by a specialist in female organ cancers has been shown to result in a higher success rate.
Chemotherapy is used after surgery to treat any cancer that remains. Chemotherapy can also be used if the cancer comes back. Chemotherapy is most often given into the veins. Sometimes it is given directly into the abdominal cavity (intraperitoneal).
Contact your health care provider if you are a woman over 40 years old who has not recently had a pelvic exam. Routine pelvic exams are recommended for all women over 20 years old.
Call for an appointment with your provider if you have symptoms of ovarian cancer.
There are no standard recommendations for screening for ovarian cancer. Pelvic ultrasound or blood tests, such as the CA-125 has not been found to be effective and is not recommended.
BRCA gene testing may be done in women at high risk for ovarian cancer.
Removing the ovaries and tubes in women who have a problem in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene may reduce the risk of developing ovarian cancer. But ovarian cancer may still develop in other areas of the pelvis.
Armstrong D. Ovaries and fallopian tubes. In: Abeloff MD, Armitage JO, Niederhuber JE, et al. eds. Abeloff’s Clinical Oncology. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Churchill-Livingstone; 2008:chap 93.
Berek JS, Chalas E, Edelson M, Moore DH, Burke WM, Cliby WA, et al. Prophylactic and risk-reducing bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy: recommendations based on risk of ovarian cancer. Obstet Gynecol. 2010 Sep;116(3):733-43.
National Comprehensive Cancer Network. NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines): Ovarian cancer: including fallopian tube cancer and primary peritoneal cancer. Version 1.2013. Available at: http://www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/pdf/ovarian.pdf. Accessed November 16, 2012.
Yi-Bin Chen, MD, Leukemia/Bone Marrow Transplant Program, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.