What You Should Know About Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer only accounts for 2.5 percent of cancers in women, but it remains one of the deadliest as “the fifth-leading cause of cancer-related death among women,” according to Ovarian Cancer Research Fund Alliance.

Approximately one in 79 women will get ovarian cancer, while one in 109 are at risk of dying from it. These statistics are not overly alarming but certainly capture one’s attention. Here’s what you need to know about ovarian cancer.

What is Ovarian Cancer?

Ovarian cancer starts with abnormal tissue growth at the ovaries. When normal, healthy cells would die off or turnover, cancer cells persist. The result is a tumor. There are four types of tumors that can grow on the ovary:

1. Epithelial Tumor

Ninety percent of ovarian cancers are at the epithelial layer. This is a small, thin layer that covers the outside of the ovary. Epithelial tumors are most often found in postmenopausal women.

2. Germ Cell Tumor

In contrast, germ cell tumors occur in younger women, mostly those in their 20s. The cells are the starting place for egg formation. There are six different type of germ cell tumors, but the three most common are: dysgerminomas, teratomas, and endodermal sinus tumors. This is a rare form of cancer.

3. Stromal Tumor

Stromal tumors form in the ovarian connective tissue that also produces the hormones estrogen and progesterone. These tumors account for only five to seven percent of ovarian cancers but can be detected in stage one 70 percent of the time. There are two types of stromal tumors: sertoli-leydig cell tumors and granulosa cell tumors.

4. Small Cell Carcinoma

This is a very rare and malignant form of ovarian cancer. It usually occurs in young women in their 20s. It accounts for only 0.1 percent of ovarian cancers.

Ovarian Cancer Symptoms

Ovarian cancer symptoms can be subtle. That’s why it’s important to pay attention to any symptoms you might be having that occur frequently, at a rate of about 12 times or more per month. The most common symptoms are:

  • abdominal bloating
  • feeling full quickly after eating
  • urgency or frequency with urination
  • abdominal pain

Other symptoms include:

  • breast tenderness
  • vaginal secretions
  • vaginal bleeding (for postmenopausal women)
  • early onset puberty (for prepubertal girls)

Generalized symptoms include back pain, pain with intercourse, fatigue, indigestion, constipation, or menstrual irregularities. Due to the generality of these symptoms, they are often not helpful in identifying ovarian cancer. If you’re at all concerned about frequent symptoms, then see your physician.

How to Detect Ovarian Cancer

The pap smear is used to test for cervical cancer. Ovarian cancer doesn’t have a similar form of test but is in need of one, because early detection is often difficult.

Many ovarian cancers are only found after it has spread to tissue elsewhere in the abdomen. The best methods that medicine has for now include:

  • transvaginal ultrasound to detect abnormal masses or lumps on the ovaries
  • abdominal CT to get a clearer picture of the masses or lumps on the ovaries
  • blood work including CA-125, which is a substance that is elevated in the presence of a cancerous tumor. It’s elevated in approximately 80 percent of women with ovarian cancer.
  • Biopsy would be the ultimate diagnostic tool. A piece of tissue is retrieved from the mass, and the cells are inspected for abnormality and malignancy.


Like many other cancers, your options for treatment within the medical establishment are:

  • chemotherapy
  • radiation
  • surgery

If the cancer hasn’t spread, then surgery is an effective treatment for removal of the tumor. You’ll need to discuss with your physician and medical professionals to decide what the best option is for your specific situation.

Related at Care2

Image via Thinkstock


Clare O'Beara
Clare O'Beara27 days ago


Elizabeth M
Past Member 27 days ago

noted thanks very much

Shirley S
Shirley S28 days ago

I knew two women who died from ovarian cancer. Neither of them had ever had children.

Diane W
Diane Wayne29 days ago

can a cyst turn into a tumor?

Diane W
Diane Wayne29 days ago

interesting. thank you

Chrissie R
Chrissie R29 days ago

Thank you for posting.

hELEN h29 days ago


Toni W
Toni W29 days ago


Toni W
Toni W29 days ago


Ruth R
Ruth R29 days ago

Useful information, thank you