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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Quick GuideOvarian Cancer Symptoms, Signs, Stages

Ovarian Cancer Symptoms, Signs, Stages

What are ovarian cancer risk factors?

Risk factors are related to two major categories: menstrual cycles (ovulation) and family history. The more a woman ovulates (cycles) over her lifetime, the higher her risk of ovarian cancer. Thus starting her period (menarche) at a younger age, ending her period (menopause) at a late age, and never getting pregnant (nulliparity) are all risk factors. It was once thought that infertility patients who underwent preparation for IVF (ovarian stimulation for in vitro fertilization) were at increased risk, but this has since been shown not to be the case in a large comprehensive review of the subject.

Approximately 15% of ovarian cancers are genetically related. Because of this, current guidelines suggest that all women with ovarian cancer should undergo testing for BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene changes (mutations). All patients with ovarian cancer will ideally discuss this topic with their doctor. These gene mutations can affect males as well as females. If a patient is positive for one of these, then her siblings and her children can be tested as well. Testing involves a simple blood test that can be drawn at many offices and laboratories. The results of this test can greatly affect how family members are monitored for various cancers, and family members of both sexes are encouraged to be tested.

When compared with the general population risk (1.3% of women will develop ovarian cancer), women with BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic mutations have a 39% (BRCA1) or 11% to 17% (BRCA2) chance of developing ovarian cancer in their lifetime. Lynch syndrome (typically colon and uterine cancer), Li-Fraumeni syndrome, and Cowden's syndrome are also associated with ovarian cancer but are less common.

The less common varieties of ovarian cancer (borderline, germ cell, and stromal tumors) have few definable risk factors. The germ cell tumors often seen at younger ages and are treated very differently both surgically and chemotherapeutically.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/28/2016

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