Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer is an aggressive tumor that affects the ovaries. How far the cancer has spread affects a woman’s chance of survival. Most doctors use surgery or chemotherapy to treat ovarian cancer. Drugs and cosmetic products such as fertility drugs, male hormones or talcum powder may increase ovarian cancer risk.

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Ovarian cancer starts when cells in the ovaries grow out of control and form tumors. More women die of ovarian cancer than any other type of reproductive cancer.

Fact
A woman’s chance of getting ovarian cancer is 1 in 78.

In 2018, about 22,240 women will get a diagnosis of ovarian cancer. About 14,070 women will die from it.

New cases and deaths from ovarian cancer have declined since 1992.

Catching the cancer early increases chances of survival. Gynecologic oncologists are doctors who specialize in treating ovarian cancer. There are also several treatment options for ovarian cancer.

Some drugs, surgeries and cosmetic products can affect the risk of ovarian cancer.

ovarian cancer symptoms illustration

What are the Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer?

Symptoms of ovarian cancer vary depending on how serious it is. Many times, ovarian cancer has no symptoms. If there are symptoms, they are mild. This makes ovarian cancer difficult to detect.

Symptoms of ovarian cancer include
  • Bloating
  • Difficulty eating, less appetite
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Urinating often and with more urgency
  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Abnormal periods
  • Unexplained back pain
  • Gas, nausea or vomiting
woman explaining her symptoms
Questions to Ask Your Doctor
  • Could these symptoms mean I have cancer?
  • Are there tests to check for cancer?
  • Could these symptoms be from another health issue?
  • Do I need to see a specialist?

How do Doctors Diagnose Ovarian Cancer?

Often, early ovarian cancer doesn’t have symptoms. If there are symptoms, the doctor will ask questions and do a physical exam. Then, he or she will run some tests.

Fact
70 percent of ovarian tumors are not found until cancer has spread.
Common tests for diagnosing ovarian cancer
Ultrasound
uses sound waves to make pictures of the ovaries.
CT scans
are X-rays that take pictures of the ovaries.
Laparoscopy
is a type of surgery that uses a small camera attached to a tube to look at the ovaries and other body parts.
Blood tests
detect protein levels in the blood. Cancer cells cause proteins to go up.
Biopsies
use samples of ovarian tissue to check for cancer cells. This is the only way to tell for sure if you have cancer.
Questions icon
Questions to Ask Your Doctor
  • What tests will I need to have?
  • How long with these tests take?
  • Can you explain the tests to me?
  • When will I get results?

What are the Types of Ovarian Cancer?

There are several types of ovarian cancer. But, there are three main types. The type of cancer determines the treatment. It also affects survival rates.

Fact
About 90 percent of ovarian cancers are epithelial carcinomas.
Three types of Ovarian Cancer
Epithelial Cancer

Epithelial cancer
is a tumor that starts on the outside of the ovary. The majority of ovarian tumors are epithelial.

stromal cancer diagram

Stromal cancer
starts from ovarian cells that make hormones. Doctors can typically diagnose these early.

Germ Cell Cancer diagram

Germ cell cancer
starts in the egg cells. These tumors are very rare. They occur in younger women and girls.

middle aged woman consulting a doctor
Questions to Ask Your Doctor
  • Can you write down what type of cancer I have?
  • What is the next step?
  • What should I know about this type of cancer?
  • How do you know I have cancer?

Ovarian Cancer Staging and Survival Rates

Doctors use tumor staging to determine how serious ovarian cancer is. The stage depends on how far the cancer has spread or metastasized.

Stages go from 1 to 4. Stage 4 cancer is the most serious. The stage of cancer determines how likely someone will survive five years or more.

Stage 4 ovarian stromal tumors and germ cell tumors have better survival rates than epithelial tumors. Stromal tumors have a 35 percent survival rate. Germ cell tumors have a 69 percent survival rate.

STAGE LOCATION AND/OR SIZE OF EPITHELIAL TUMOR 5-YEAR SURVIVAL RATE
1 Limited to ovaries 90%
1A One ovary, capsule (outer shell) of ovary intact 94%
1B Both ovaries, capsule of ovary intact 92%
1C Ruptured capsule, tumor on ovary surface, cancer cells in peritoneal (abdominal) fluid 85%
2 Pelvis 70%
2A Uterus, fallopian tubes 78%
2B Other tissues in pelvis 73%
2C Malignant cells in fluid causing abdominal swelling
3 Peritoneal metastasis beyond pelvis 39%
3A Microscopic peritoneal spread 59%
3B Macroscopic peritoneal metastasis less than or equal to 2 cm 52%
3C Peritoneal metastasis greater than 2 cm, lymph node metastasis 39%
4 Distant metastasis 17%
Questions icon
Questions to Ask Your Doctor
  • What stage is my cancer?
  • Can you explain the stage to me?
  • How does this affect my treatment options?
  • How long will I live?

What are the Treatments for Ovarian Cancer?

A doctor will determine the treatment plan depending on the stage and type of ovarian cancer. The health of a patient and treatment side effects also affect treatment options.

“Although ovarian cancer is a highly fatal cancer…there is hope. There is a substantial portion of women who live a long time after diagnosis.”

Source: Rosemary D. Cress, University of California (UC) Davis Medical Center

Surgery

Most of the time, doctors recommend surgery. Oncologists will remove as much of the cancer as they can. Sometimes, the doctor will have to remove other body parts with tumors.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells or shrink tumors. But, it can also kill healthy cells. Some ovarian cancer chemotherapy drugs have serious side effects. For example, Taxotere may cause permanent hair loss.

Targeted Therapy

Targeted therapy uses drugs to attack cancer cells and reduce harm to healthy cells. This is a newer treatment. There are several kinds of targeted therapy.

Hormone Therapy

Hormone therapy uses hormones or hormone-blocking drugs to fight cancer. Doctors don’t often use this type of therapy on epithelial ovarian cancers.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays to shrink or kill tumors. In ovarian cancer, radiation treats tumors that have spread.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor
  • What is the best treatment for me?
  • Does this treatment have side effects or complications?
  • Will vitamins, herbs or certain foods help?
  • What happens if this treatment doesn’t work or the cancer comes back?
Ovarian health section

Ovarian Cancer Risk Factors and Prevention

Fact
Studies show women who use talcum powder in the genital area may develop ovarian cancer.

Certain factors can increase or decrease your risk of getting ovarian cancer. The number one risk factor is age, according to the American Cancer Society. There are also certain drugs or products that may increase your ovarian cancer risk.

Drugs or products that may increase ovarian cancer include:
Age
Cancer risk goes up with age. About half of all ovarian cancers affect women 63 or over.
Birth control
Women who use birth control pills or get a Depo-Provera shot have a lower risk for ovarian cancer.
Fertility drugs
The fertility drug Clomid (clomiphene citrate) may increase the risk of ovarian tumors.
Gene mutations
Women who have BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes have a higher risk of ovarian cancer.
Hormone therapy
Women who take estrogen after menopause could increase their risk of ovarian cancer.
Male hormones
Drugs that increase male hormones, such as Danazol, may increase ovarian cancer risk.
Obesity
Women with a body mass index of 30 or higher are at increased risk of developing ovarian cancer.
Reproductive history
Women who had babies before age 26 have the lowest risk of ovarian cancer. The risk goes down with each child born.
Surgeries
Women who get their tubes tied or have a hysterectomy reduce their risk of ovarian cancer by as much as two-thirds.
Talcum powder
Some studies linked long-term genital talcum powder use to increased ovarian cancer risk.
Diet
Women who eat lower fat diets may lower their risk of ovarian cancer.

Please seek the advice of a medical professional before making health care decisions.

9 Cited Research Articles

  1. U.S. National Library of Medicine. (n.d.) Ovarian Cancer. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/ovariancancer.html
  2. Office of Women’s Health. (2017, May 3). Ovarian Cancer. Retrieved from https://www.womenshealth.gov/cancer/ovarian-cancer
  3. National Cancer Institute. (n.d.). Cancer Stat Facts: Ovarian Cancer. Retrieved from https://seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/ovary.html
  4. American Cancer Society. (2016, February 4). What are the Risk Factors for Ovarian Cancer? Retrieved from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/ovarian-cancer/causes-risks-prevention/risk-factors.html
  5. American Cancer Society. (2016, February 4). Survival Rates for Ovarian Cancer, by Stage. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/ovarian-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/survival-rates.html
  6. National Cancer Institute. (n.d.). Ovarian Cancer Staging. Retrieved from https://training.seer.cancer.gov/ovarian/abstract-code-stage/staging.html
  7. Lowry, F. (2015, August 17). Long-term Survival for Ovarian Cancer Higher than Thought. Retrieved from https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/849604
  8. Cress, R. et al. (2015, September). Characteristics of Long-Term Survivors of Epithelial Ovarian Cancer. Retrieved from https://journals.lww.com/greenjournal/Fulltext/2015/09000/Characteristics_of_Long_Term_Survivors_of.7.aspx
  9. American Society of Clinical Oncology. (2017, October). Ovarian, Fallopian Tube, and Peritoneal Cancer: Diagnosis. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/ovarian-fallopian-tube-and-peritoneal-cancer/diagnosis
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