Ovaries are a woman’s reproductive glands. They store eggs to have a baby. The eggs move from the ovaries through the fallopian tubes into the uterus (womb). In the uterus, the fertilized egg settles in and grows into a fetus.
The ovaries also make some of the female hormones (natural chemicals in the body that help it work). These hormones are called estrogen and progesterone. There is one ovary on each side of the uterus.
Ovarian cancer is when too many ovary cells grow. This can cause growths in the ovaries that aren't normal and could be cancer.
These are some of the possible signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer:
- Back pain
- Pain in the abdomen (middle of the body)
- Pain or a feeling of pressure in the pelvic area
- Problems with eating or feeling full too quickly
- Discharge (liquid or substance) from your vagina that isn’t normal for you
- Feeling a need to go to the bathroom more often to pass urine or problems with constipation
- Vaginal bleeding (particularly if you're past menopause, when a woman's monthly cycle stops as part of the aging process)
These symptoms can happen for other reasons besides cancer. If you have symptoms like those listed above, you should talk to your provider to find out the reason.OR
With ovarian cancer, only about 20% of cases are found at an early stage. When ovarian cancer is found early, about 94% of patients live more than five years after it's first found by a doctor.
There are many ways your doctor may find ovarian cancer. Your doctor might do one or more of the following:
- A well woman exam, such as a pelvic exam when a provider will feel the shape and size of your ovaries and uterus
- An imaging test, like an X-ray or CT scan
- A biopsy (taking a sample of tissue from your body and testing it)
- Lab tests and other screening tests, such as a blood test
- Laparoscopy — a doctor using a thin, lighted tube to look at the ovaries and other pelvic organs and tissues in the area
Ovarian cancer causes more deaths than other forms of cancer found in the female reproductive system. In the United States, ovarian cancer is the second most common form of cancer found in the female reproductive system.OR
We don't know for sure why some women get ovarian cancer and others don't.
Ovarian cancer doesn't happen often in women younger than age 40. Some factors may raise a woman’s chances for getting ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer usually happens after a woman is in menopause. Half of ovarian cancer cases are found in women age 63 or older.
Also, your chances for getting ovarian cancer go up if you have close family members on your mother’s or father’s side who have had ovarian cancer, such as your:
Learn more about other factors that may raise your chances for getting ovarian cancer.OR
There is no known way to stop ovarian cancer from happening. There are factors found to lower a woman's chance of getting ovarian cancer, such as:
- Birth control pill use or medicine taken by mouth for family planning
- Reproductive system surgery, including having your tubes tied, having both ovaries taken out or a hysterectomy (surgery to remove the uterus and/or the cervix)
Learn more about lowering the chances of getting ovarian cancer.OR
How we care for ovarian cancer depends on many factors:
- Type of cancer
- Size of the cancer
- Where the cancer is located in the body
- Stage of cancer
Your doctor will work with you to find the right care plan for you. Some examples of treatment include:
- Surgery to remove cancer
- Chemotherapy (using medication to make the cancer smaller or to kill cancer cells)
- Radiation (using X-rays to kill cancer cells)
- Cryosurgery (using cold temperatures to freeze or kill cancer cells)
- Targeted therapy (using drugs to stop cancer cells from growing and spreading)
- Hormone therapy (using hormones or medications that block hormones to kill cancer cells)
- American Cancer Society. Can Ovarian Cancer Be Prevented? Accessed April 5, 2021.
- American Cancer Society. Ovarian Cancer Risk Factors. Accessed April 5, 2021.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ovarian Cancer Statistics. Accessed April 5, 2021.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What Are The Risk Factors for Ovarian Cancer? Accessed April 2, 2021.