Ovarian Cancer Symptoms, Early Warning Signs, and Risk Factors

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Cancer of the ovary (ovarian cancer) is the ninth most common cancer in women in the U.S. with almost 22,000 women newly diagnosed each year. Ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer deaths in women. It frequently does not result in symptoms until the cancer has spread extensively beyond the ovary.

Ovarian cancer actually represents a group of different tumors that arise from diverse types of tissue contained within the ovary. The most common type of ovarian cancer arises from the epithelial cells (the outside layer of cells) of the surface of the ovary. Other, rare types of ovarian cancer develop from the egg-forming germ cells or from the supporting tissue (stroma) of the organ. Benign (noncancerous) tumors and cysts are also found in the ovary and are much more common than ovarian cancers.

The majority of ovarian cancers are diagnosed late, after the cancers have spread. Only about 20% of women are diagnosed early, when the disease may be most curable. There is no definitive screening test for early ovarian cancer. Regular pelvic examinations, sometimes supplemented by ultrasound examinations or blood tests for cancer-related markers, have been routinely used for ovarian cancer screening, but none of these tests are specifically able to detect ovarian cancer. Traditionally, it was believed that ovarian cancer does not produce any characteristic symptoms until the tumor is widespread, and that early symptoms of ovarian cancer were not recognizable.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/1/2014