Symptoms and Signs of Ovarian Cancer

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 9/15/2021

Doctor's Notes on Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer occurs when abnormal ovarian cells form a tumor in one or both ovaries. There are several types of ovarian cancers. The type of cell that originates the abnormal growth determines the class of ovarian tumors. Signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer (most types) do not occur until late in the disease when the tumor has grown large enough to apply pressure to other organs. The earliest symptom and sign of the disease can be menstrual irregularity. Signs and symptoms that come later in this disease may include

In most individuals, the primary cause of ovarian cancer development is unknown. Related causes that may play a role in ovarian cancer development may include

  • family history (the patient has a mother, sister, or daughter who has the disease),
  • hereditary symptoms such as mutation in a gene called BRAC1,
  • hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer syndrome, and
  • site-specific ovarian cancer syndrome.

Other factors that increase ovarian cancer cell risk may include

  • age greater than 50 years,
  • no pregnancies,
  • use of fertility drugs,
  • Ashkenazi Jewish heritage and Anglo heritage,
  • asbestos exposure,
  • repeated exposure of genitals to talc powder,
  • irradiation of the pelvic area, and
  • infection with some viruses (for example, mumps virus).

What Are the Treatments for Ovarian Cancer?

Treatment of ovarian cancer usually requires both surgery and chemotherapy. Surgery and chemotherapy may involve the following:

  • One ovary removal (can preserve ability to get pregnant)
  • Two ovary removal (uterus intact; can get pregnant using your frozen eggs or donor eggs)
  • Two ovary removal and uterus and other tissue (can't get pregnant)
  • Chemotherapy: chemicals that kill fast-growing cells; may be used before or after surgery and can be administered orally, intravenously, or directly into the abdomen
  • Targeted therapy: compounds that target specific areas that ovarian cancers need for growth
  • Supportive care: care focused on relief of symptoms and pain

Must Read Articles:


Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.