What is ovarian cancer?

The ovaries are almond-sized pelvic organs that store and release eggs and produce estrogen and progesterone. Ovarian cancers can start in any of the cells in the ovaries, but most are epithelial cancers that start in the cells on the surface of the ovaries. Around 22,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with ovarian cancer annually (Source: NCI).

At first, ovarian cancer may show no symptoms. As the cancer grows, you may have vague symptoms such as gas, bloating, diarrhea or constipation, and you may suffer from fatigue. These symptoms may be accompanied by pain or a sensation of pressure in the pelvis, abdomen, back or legs. Less commonly, some women may also experience shortness of breath, abnormal vaginal bleeding, or the need to urinate frequently.

The cause of ovarian cancer is not known, but it does seem to run in some families. Having children at an early age and having multiple children reduces the risk of ovarian cancer, as does taking birth control pills. Certain inherited genetic mutations also increase the risk of developing ovarian cancer.

The extent of spread (stage) of ovarian cancer is typically determined by surgery. Early ovarian cancers may be treated with surgery alone, with an excellent prognosis. Chemotherapy may also be recommended, depending on the stage of the cancer.

The earlier ovarian cancer is caught and treated, the better its prognosis. Seek prompt medical care if you have symptoms suggestive of ovarian cancer, especially if symptoms persist for more than a couple of days. Some complications of ovarian cancer, such as ovarian torsion (twisting of the ovary) or bowel obstruction, can be severe or even life threatening. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, experience severe symptoms such as the inability to urinate or have a bowel movement, severe abdominal or pelvic pain, or uncontrolled or heavy bleeding.

SYMPTOMS

What are the symptoms of ovarian cancer?

Early ovarian cancer may not produce any symptoms at all. In other cases, initial symptoms of ovarian cancer can be vague and may include gas, bloating, abdominal swelling, changes in bowel movements, and fatigue. You may also experience a sensation of pressure or pain in the abdomen or pelvis as the cancer progresses. Other symptoms may include feeling full early in a meal, shortness of breath, abnormal vaginal bleeding, and urinary frequency.... Read more about ovarian cancersymptoms

CAUSES

What causes ovarian cancer?

The cause of ovarian cancer is not known. Although it does seem to run in certain families, it can occur in women who have no family history of cancer. Early age at first delivery, multiple pregnancies, and birth control pills seem to lower the risk of ovarian cancer, while unopposed estrogen replacement (without complementary progesterone replacement therapy) may increase the risk.... Read more about ovarian cancercauses

TREATMENTS

How is ovarian cancer treated?

The goal of ovarian cancer treatment is to permanently cure your cancer or bring about a complete remission of the disease. Remission means that there is no longer any sign of the disease in the body, although it may recur later.... Read more about ovarian cancertreatments

Medical Reviewer: All content has been reviewed by board-certified physicians under the direction of Rich Klasco, M.D., FACEP. Last Annual Review Date: May 2, 2011 Copyright: © Copyright 2011 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.