Ovarian Cancer Overview
Cancer occurs when cells undergo a transformation and begin to grow and multiply without normal controls. As the cells grow and multiply, they form masses called tumors. Cancer is dangerous because it overwhelms healthy cells by taking their space and the oxygen and nutrients they need to survive and function.
Ovarian cancer occurs when a tumor forms in one or both of a woman's ovaries. The ovaries are a pair of small organs that produce and release ova, or human eggs. The ovaries also produce important hormones such as estrogen and progesterone. They are located in the lower abdomen (pelvis), on either side of the womb (uterus). Ova released by the ovaries travel through the fallopian tubes to the uterus, where they may or may not be fertilized by the male sperm.
Cancerous tumors are malignant. This means they can spread to other tissues and organs. Not all tumors, however, are malignant. The ovaries can develop benign tumors, as well as malignant tumors or cancers.
In a process called metastasis, malignant tumors may encroach on and invade neighboring organs or lymph nodes, or they may enter the bloodstream and spread to remote organs such as the liver or lungs. The presence of metastases or metastatic tumors is an ominous finding noted in the more advanced stages of cancer of the ovary.
The type of cell that originated the abnormal growth determines the class of the ovarian tumors.
Noncancerous (benign) ovarian masses include abscesses or infections, fibroids, cysts, polycystic ovaries, endometriosis-related masses, ectopic pregnancies, and others.
The incidence of ovarian cancer varies greatly. Globally, Scandinavia, Israel, and North America have the highest rates. Developing countries and Japan have the lowest rates.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/9/2014
Robert P Edwards, MD
Jana M Lee, MD
Paul Blackburn, DO, FACOEP, FACEP
Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD
Lee P Shulman, MD
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