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 include any of the following:

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

Other symptoms that can occur:

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 fluid (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. But it may be done if a woman has:

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, so no standard screening tests are recommended at this time.

Treatment

Surgery is used to treat all stages of ovarian cancer. For early stages, surgery may be the only treatment. Surgery can involve removing both ovaries and fallopian tubes, the uterus, or other structures in the belly or pelvis.

Chemotherapy is used after surgery to treat any cancer that remains. Chemotherapy can also be used if the cancer comes back (relapses).

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

After surgery and chemotherapy, follow instructions about how often you should see your doctor and the tests you should have.

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

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Contact your health care provider if you are a woman 40 years or older who has not recently had a pelvic exam. Routine pelvic exams are recommended for all women 20 years or older.

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 proven 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: 10/30/2013
Reviewed By: Yi-Bin Chen, MD, Leukemia/Bone Marrow Transplant Program, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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