Women’s Health A-Z

Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer is the fifth most common cancer in women. Unfortunately, there are not currently any screening tests that can be done, and symptoms are often vague, making it difficult to diagnose. It’s always important for you to be in touch with how you normally feel so that if changes occur, you can seek medical advice as soon as possible.

There are several types of ovarian cancer, but all occur when cells in the ovaries grow out of control. Most ovarian cancers are epithelial ovarian carcinomas. Most cases of ovarian cancer occur in women over the age of 63. It is more common in white women. Researchers are unsure of what causes ovarian cancer, though they do know women with the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, as well as women with other inherited cancer syndromes, are at higher risk. If you have a family history related to these genes or syndromes, you may wish to talk with your provider about genetic testing to better understand your risk.

Ovarian Cancer Symptoms

  • Bloating
  • Upset stomach
  • Pain in the pelvis or abdomen
  • Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
  • Feeling as though you have to urinate often or urgently
  • Changes in bowel habits
  • Fatigue

Diagnosis

Many symptoms of ovarian cancer are also symptoms of other conditions, so it is important to see your physician to evaluate the cause of your discomfort if symptoms persist for more than two weeks. Also, because the symptoms are vague, ovarian cancer is often not diagnosed until the advanced stages of the disease. To determine a diagnosis, your provider may look at your medical history and do a physical exam.

If ovarian cancer is suspected, your doctor will order additional tests that may include an ultrasound, CT scan, and/or MRI scan. Your doctor may also order a blood test called a CA-125 level. Cancer may cause this number to be higher than normal. They may also refer you to a specialist. If your provider detects an ovarian mass, you may need surgery to remove the mass and/or ovary to determine if cancer is present. Most ovarian growths (tumors and cysts) are benign.

Treatment

If you receive a diagnosis of ovarian cancer, a gynecologic oncologist will help determine your treatment plan. Treatment usually involves both surgery and chemotherapy.