Office of Women's Health

Facts About Ovarian Cancer

What is ovarian cancer?

The ovaries are the part of the female reproductive system that produce eggs every month during a woman's reproductive years. They are located on either side of the lower abdomen. Ovarian cancer occurs when cells in the ovary grow and divide uncontrollably. The cells may form a tumor on the ovary, or they also can break off from the main tumor and spread to other parts of the body. Although ovarian cancer can spread throughout the entire body, in most cases it stays in the abdomen and affects organs such as the intestines, liver and stomach. There are several types of ovarian cancer. However, most cancers of the ovary come from the cells that make up the outer lining of the ovary.

How common is ovarian cancer?

A woman’s risk of getting ovarian cancer during her lifetime is about one in 67. The risk of getting this cancer and dying from it is one in 95. Ovarian cancer is the eighth most common cancer in women, excluding skin cancer. It is the fifth leading cause of cancer death in women.

What are the symptoms of ovarian cancer?

The initial symptoms are similar to gastrointestinal illness and indigestion, making the disease hard to diagnose. For this reason, many women are not diagnosed until late in the development of ovarian cancer. Signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer may include:

These symptoms may be caused by ovarian cancer or by other less serious conditions. It is important to check with a doctor about any of these symptoms.

What are some risk factors for ovarian cancer?

The exact causes of ovarian cancer are not known. However, studies show that the following risk factors may increase the chance of developing this disease:

How is ovarian cancer diagnosed?

Many times women with ovarian cancer have no symptoms or just mild symptoms until the disease is in an advanced stage. Ovarian cancer is difficult to diagnose and is often diagnosed after the disease is advanced. Some diagnostic exams and tests that may be useful are:

What are the treatment options for ovarian cancer?

After diagnosis, a doctor will suggest one or more options for treatment. The type of treatment depends on the type of cancer and the stage of the disease. If surgery has not been performed yet, the exact stage may not be known. The main treatments for ovarian cancer are surgery, chemotherapy and radiation or a combination of the three.

More information about ovarian cancer can be obtained by contacting:

Ovarian Cancer

National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute

Ovarian Cancer Fact Sheet

The National Women’s Health Information Center, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Ovarian Cancer

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636)