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Ovarian Cancer


Topic Overview

What is ovarian cancer?

Ovarian cancer happens when cells that are not normal grow in one or both of your ovariesClick here to see an illustration.. The ovaries are two small glands, located on either side of your uterus. They produce female sex hormones and store and release eggs (ova).

Treatments for ovarian cancer are more successful when the cancer is found early. But most of the time, cancer has already spread by the time it is found.

This topic is about epithelial ovarian cancer. This is cancer that grows in the tissue covering the ovaries. It is the most common type of ovarian cancer and usually occurs in women who are past menopause.

What causes ovarian cancer?

Experts don't know exactly what causes ovarian cancer. But they do know that DNA changes play a role in many cancers.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of ovarian cancer may include:

  • Recent, frequent bloating.
  • Pain in the belly or pelvis.
  • Trouble eating, or feeling full quickly.
  • Urinary problems, such as an urgent need to urinate or urinating more often than usual.

These symptoms may be common in women who don't have ovarian cancer. But if these symptoms are new for you, and they happen almost daily for 2 to 3 weeks, you should see a doctor.

How is ovarian cancer diagnosed?

Sometimes the doctor may feel a lump in or on an ovary during a routine pelvic exam. Often a lump may be seen during an ultrasound. Most lumps aren't cancer.

If your doctor thinks you may have ovarian cancer, you may have a blood test called CA-125 (cancer antigen 125). Too much CA-125 in your blood can be a sign of ovarian cancer. But too much CA-125 in the blood can be caused by many things, such as the menstrual cycle, endometriosis, and uterine fibroids.

The only way to know for sure that a woman has ovarian cancer is with biopsies taken during surgery. Tissue samples will be sent to a lab to see if they contain cancer.

How is it treated?

Surgery is the main treatment. The doctor will remove any tumors that he or she can see. This usually means taking out one or both ovaries. It may also mean taking out the fallopian tubes and uterus. Chemotherapy is often part of treatment. It may be given before and after surgery.

Almost all women whose ovarian cancer is found early will live at least 5 more years.1 But how long a woman lives usually depends on how far the cancer has spread by the time it is found and treated.

When you find out that you have cancer, you may feel many emotions and may need some help coping. Talking with other women who are going through the same thing may help. Your doctor or your local branch of the American Cancer Society can help you find a support group.

What are your chances of getting ovarian cancer?

For most women, the chances of getting this cancer are small. It most often affects women who are past menopause. You may be more likely to get it if other women in your family have had it. Also, some women inherit gene changes that increase their chances of getting it.

Frequently Asked Questions

Learning about ovarian cancer:

Being diagnosed:

Getting treatment:

Ongoing concerns:

Living with ovarian cancer:

Care at the end of life issues:

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