Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer is the abnormal growth of cells in the ovaries, the egg (ovum) producing part of the female reproductive system. Often, ovarian cancer goes undetected until it has metastasized (spread) to the pelvis and abdomen. At this late stage, this cancer can be difficult to treat. Ovarian cancer ranks as the 11th most common cancer among women, and it is the 5th leading cause of cancer-related death for women1.

Credit: American Cancer Society

What are the different types of ovarian cancer?

There are several types of ovarian cancer that affect the different cells of the ovaries. Read more about the types of ovarian cancer at: http://www.ovarian.org/types_and_stages.php

What are the symptoms of ovarian cancer?

  • Bloating
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Difficulty eating
  • Urinary irregularities in regards to urgency and/or frequency
  • Fatigue
  • Upset stomach
  • Back pain
  • Pain during sex
  • Constipation
  • Menstrual changes
  • Abdominal swelling with weight loss

How is ovarian cancer diagnosed?

Physical exams will focus on locating enlarged ovaries and/or fluid build-up in the abdomen that can be seen or felt.

Imaging tests use x-rays, magnetic fields, or sound waves to create pictures of the inside of the body. For ovarian cancer, these tests may include computed tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, barium enema x-rays, chest x-rays, positron emission tomography (PET) scans and ultrasounds to confirm the presence of an abnormal mass in the pelvis.

Laparoscopy is the insertion of a flexible tube with a camera into the body that allows a doctor to see the ovaries, organs, and tissues in this region. Laparoscopy provides images that can help plan surgery or other treatments for ovarian cancer; it can also help doctors determine the stage of ovarian cancer.

Biopsies entail removing a sample of a growth on the ovary and examining it under a microscope. For ovarian cancer, it is common for the entire tumor to be removed during a biopsy.

Blood tests for ovarian cancer include complete blood counts, CA-125 tests, and tumor marker tests.

What are the different stages of ovarian cancer?

Ovarian cancer is staged according to the AJCC/TNM System.

The TNM system for ovarian cancer is based on 3 key pieces of information:

  • T refers to how much the main (primary) tumor has spread to tissues next to the ovaries.
  • N describes how much the cancer has spread to regional (nearby) lymph nodes.
  • M indicates whether the cancer has metastasized (spread to distant lymph nodes or other organs of the body).

What are the treatment options for ovarian cancer?

This ovarian cancer treatment information does not outline the particular treatment(s) a patient will receive. Rather, it provides general information about the typical treatments for this type of cancer.

Primary treatment options:

  • Surgery is the primary treatment for ovarian cancer. During surgery, surgeons try to remove the entire visible tumor, a process known as debulking, which may include removing portions of surrounding tissues and organs. Surgery is also used to stage a particular case of ovarian cancer.
  • Chemotherapy uses drugs to treat cancer. The delivery of chemotherapy, including when it will be delivered and what drugs will be used, will depend on the type and stage of the ovarian cancer.
  • Radiation Therapy uses high-energy rays or particles to kill cancer cells. For ovarian cancer, these procedures may include external beam radiation and internal radiation therapy.

Secondary treatment options:

  • Targeted therapies are drugs that prevent the growth of cancer cells and protect healthy ovarian cells from damage.
  • Hormone therapy help destroy the cancer cells by cutting off the supply of hormones, like estrogen, that support their growth.

What are the risks of ovarian cancer?

  • Age: Women over 55 are at a higher risk of ovarian cancer.
  • Family history: Having a mother, daughter, or sister with ovarian cancer puts a person at greater risk of developing ovarian cancer.
  • Genes: A mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene is correlated with higher rates of ovarian cancer.
  • Child-bearing: Women who have never had children, or women who had their first child after 30 are at a higher risk of ovarian cancer.
  • Fertility treatment: Those women who have received fertility treatments for more than 1 year are at a higher risk of ovarian cancer.
  • Menstruation: Women who started menstruation before age 12 and/or go through menopause later in life have an increased risk of ovarian cancer.
  • Hormone replacement: Women who have taken estrogen-only hormone replacement therapy (HRT) after menopause have a higher risk of ovarian cancer.
  • Obesity: Early adulthood obesity is correlated to higher rates of ovarian cancer

How is ovarian cancer prevented?

  • Taking oral contraceptives (birth control) for three or more years makes women 30% to 50% less likely to develop ovarian cancer.
  • Breastfeeding is correlated with lower rates of ovarian cancer.
  • Pregnancy is correlated with lower rates of ovarian cancer. 
Mikayla D. Williams , BS, Nursing , University of Arizona
Michael Principe, MA, Information Resources and Library Science , University of Arizona
Works Cited: 
American Cancer Society (2014). Ovarian cancer. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/ovariancancer/
Works Consulted: 
American Society of Clinical Oncology Ovarian cancer. http://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/ovarian-cancer/
Ovarian Cancer National Alliance (2014). About ovarian cancer. http://www.ovariancancer.org/
National Ovarian Cancer Coalition (2014). What is ovarian cancer. http://www.ovarian.org/