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About Ovarian Cancer*

Ovarian cancer is cancer that begins in tissues of the ovaries. It ranks fifth as the cause of cancer death in women. The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2017 there will be about 22,440 new cases of ovarian cancer in the U.S., and about 14,080 women will die because of the disease. Around half of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer are 63 or older. It is more common in Caucasian women than African-American women. A woman's risk of getting ovarian cancer during her lifetime is about 1 in 75, and her lifetime chance of dying from ovarian cancer is about 1 in 100.

Ovarian cancer is sometimes called "the disease that whispers" because it very often is not detected until it is in the advanced stages. Currently, there is no effective means of early detection for the disease. As a result, about 46% of women survive longer than five years. About 20% of cases are diagnosed in the early stages, before the cancer has spread beyond the ovary to the pelvic region. If ovarian cancer is detected and treated early, 94% of patients live longer than 5 years after diagnosis. Several large studies are in progress to learn the best ways to find ovarian cancer in its earliest stage.

Some Signs and Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer
  • Upset stomach
  • Abdominal bloating, pelvic and/or abdominal pain, and/or feeling full quickly
  • Unexplained change in bowel habits (constipation or diarrhea)
  • Increased frequency and/or urgency of urination
  • Unusual fatigue
  • Menstrual irregularities
  • Back pain
  • Pain during sex
Some Risk Factors
  • Increasing age, with highest occurrence in women after menopause
  • Family or personal history of ovarian, breast, or colorectal cancer
  • Having no pregnancies or having a first full-term pregnancy after age 35
  • Presence of BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations as well as the genes related to other family cancer syndromes
  • Obesity (a body mass index of at least 30)
Possible Risk Reduction
  • Use of oral contraceptives for more than five years can reduce risk by approximately 50%
  • Multiple pregnancies, having first full-term pregnancy before the age of 26
  • Breast feeding
  • Tying the tubes (tubal ligation) and removing the uterus (hysterectomy)
  • Removal of the ovaries and fallopian tubes (oopherectomy)
  • Following a low-fat diet for at least four years
What to Do If You are Concerned or Have Symptoms that Persist
  • Speak to your gynecologist or a gynecologic oncologist for more information.
  • Have a vaginal-rectal pelvic examination.
  • Have a transvaginal ultrasound.
  • The CA-125 blood test measures the level of a protein in the blood that may increase when a cancerous tumor is present. However, because CA-125 misses half of early cancers and can be elevated by benign conditions, no major medical or professional organization recommends using it to screen for ovarian cancer.
  • It is important to note that none of these tests are definitive when used on their own. The only way to confirm the presence of ovarian cancer is through a surgical biopsy of the tumor tissue.
  • Note: A PAP test is used to detect cervical cancer, NOT ovarian cancer.
For More Information Support

* The information in this section was obtained primarily from the American Cancer Society web site, www.cancer.org, and the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund Alliance web site, www.ocrfa.org.

Revised 5/12/17