Ovarian cancer

Definition

Ovarian cancer is cancer that starts in the ovaries. The ovaries are the female reproductive organs that produce eggs.

Causes

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:

Symptoms

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:

Other symptoms are also possiblewith ovarian cancer. But these symptoms are also common in women who do not have cancer:

Other symptoms that can occur with this disease:

Exams and Tests

A physical exam is often normal. With have advanced ovarian cancer, the doctor may find a swollen abdomen often due to collection (called ascites).

A pelvic examination may reveal an ovarian or abdominal mass.

A CA-125 blood test is not considered a good screening test for ovarian cancer. However, it may be done if a woman:

Other tests that may be done include:

Surgery such as a pelvic laparoscopy or exploratory laparotomy is often done to find the cause of symptoms. A biopsy will be done to help make the diagnosis.

No lab or imaging test has ever been shown to be able to screen for or diagnose ovarian cancer in its early stages.

Treatment

Surgery is used to treat all stages of ovarian cancer. For early stages surgery may be the only treatment. Surgery involves:

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).

Radiation therapy is rarely used to treat ovarian cancer in the United States.

After surgery and chemotherapy, patients should be followed up closely:

Support Groups

You can ease the stress of illness by joining a cancer support group. Sharing with others who have common experiences and problems can help you not feel alone.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Ovarian cancer is rarely diagnosed in its early stages. It is usually quite advanced by the time diagnosis is made

Possible Complications

When to Contact a Medical Professional

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.

Prevention

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.


Review Date: 11/17/2012
Reviewed By: 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.

This information should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. © 1997- 2007 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.