Ovarian Cancer (Cancer of the Ovaries)

  • Medical Author: Andrew Green, MD
  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

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Ovarian Cancer Symptoms and Signs

Ovarian cancer may not cause any specific symptoms, particularly in its early stages. When it does cause symptoms, these may be nonspecific and vague. Symptoms can include:

  • abdominal enlargement or swelling,
  • abdominal fullness,
  • early satiety (feeling full early),
  • changes in bowel or bladder habits, or
  • clothes not fitting well.

Other signs and symptoms can include shortness of breath, leg swelling, and pain in the abdomen or pelvis. Fatigue may be present, but it is considered another nonspecific symptom.

Quick GuideOvarian Cancer Symptoms, Signs, Stages

Ovarian Cancer Symptoms, Signs, Stages

Ovarian cancer facts

  • Ovarian cancer is a relatively uncommon type of cancer that arises from different types of cells within the ovary.
  • The most common ovarian cancers are known as epithelial ovarian cancers (EOC).
  • Other types of ovarian cancer include ovarian low malignant potential tumor (OLMPT), germ cell tumors, and sex cord-stromal tumors.
  • Inherited mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes greatly increase a woman's risk of developing ovarian cancer.
  • A gynecologic oncologist is a specialist with expertise in the management of ovarian cancer.
  • Most ovarian cancers are diagnosed in advanced stages because there are no reliable early symptoms and signs of ovarian cancer. Even in more advanced tumors, symptoms and signs are vague and nonspecific.
  • There are no reliable screening tests for ovarian cancer.
  • Treatment of ovarian cancer involves surgery to remove as much of the tumor as possible and chemotherapy.

What is ovarian cancer?

The term "ovarian cancer" includes several different types of cancer that all arise from cells of the ovary. Most commonly, tumors arise from the epithelium, or lining cells, of the ovary. These include epithelial ovarian (from the cells on the surface of the ovary), fallopian tube, and primary peritoneal (the lining inside the abdomen that coats many abdominal structures) cancer. These are all considered to be one disease process. There is also an entity called ovarian low malignant potential tumor; these tumores have some of the microscopic features of a cancer, but tend not to spread like typical cancers.

There are also less common forms of ovarian cancer that come from within the ovary itself, including germ cell tumors and sex cord-stromal tumors. All of these diseases as well as their treatment will be discussed.

Epithelial ovarian cancer (EOC)

Epithelial ovarian cancer (EOC) accounts for a majority of all ovarian cancers. It is generally thought of as one of three types of cancer that include ovarian, fallopian tube, and primary peritoneal cancer. All three tumors behave, and are treated the same way, depending on the type of cell that causes the cancer. The four most common cell types of epithelial ovarian cancer are serous, mucinous, clear cell, and endometrioid. These cancers arise due to DNA changes in cells that lead to the development of cancer. The serous cell type is the most common variety. It is now thought that many of these cancers actually come from the lining in the fallopian tube, and fewer of them from the cells on the surface of the ovary, or the peritoneum. However, it is often hard to identify the sources of these cancers when they are found at advanced stages, which is very common.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/28/2016

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