Ovarian cancer is cancer that starts in the ovaries. The ovaries are the female reproductive organs that produce eggs.
Hope for women with ovarian cancer
Ovarian cancer used to be called a “silent killer” due to the subtle symptoms of the disease, and because few active chemotherapy drugs were available to combat the disease. With the emergence of gynecologic oncology as a specialty, this story began to change.
As a subspecialty, gynecologic oncologists focused their efforts on the needs and issues of women with cancer. Physicians categorized the signs and symptoms of cancer affecting women, and raised public awareness. Research funding was targeted and directed toward improving the outcome of women with gender-specific cancers, and slowly the prognosis of these women improved.
Our team of gynecologic oncologists continues to work toward the goals of providing comprehensive cancer care for the women diagnosed with gynecologic cancer. Their expertise in the management of these diseases allows patients access to new, state of the art treatments that are designed for their individual needs. In this way, ovarian cancer has been transformed from a “killer” to a chronic disease with options for management.
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Causes and risk factors of ovarian cancer
Ovarian cancer is the fifth most common cancer among women, and it causes more deaths than any other type of female reproductive cancer. The cause is unknown.
The risk for developing ovarian cancer appears to be affected by several factors, including:
Older women are at the highest risk. About two-thirds of the deaths from ovarian cancer occur in women age 55 and older. About 25 percent of ovarian cancer deaths occur in women between 35 and 54 years of age.
Symptoms of ovarian cancer
Ovarian cancer symptoms are often vague. Women and their doctors frequently blame the symptoms on other, more common conditions. By the time the cancer is diagnosed, the tumor has often spread beyond the ovaries.
Early-stage ovarian cancer can cause symptoms, although these symptoms also occur with many other conditions. You should see your doctor if you have the following symptoms on a daily basis for more than a few weeks:
Other symptoms can occur with ovarian cancer. However, these symptoms are also common in women who do not have cancer:
Other symptoms that can occur with this disease:
Diagnosis of ovarian cancer
A physical examination may reveal a swollen abdomen and fluid in the abdominal cavity (ascites). A pelvic examination may reveal an ovarian or abdominal mass.
Lab tests that may be done include:
Imaging tests that may be done include:
Studies have shown that surgery performed by a specialist in gynecologic oncology results in a better outcome.
Chemotherapy and radiation therapy to treat ovarian cancer
Chemotherapy is used after surgery to treat any remaining cancer cells or disease, and can also be used if the cancer comes back. Chemotherapy may be given into the veins, or sometimes directly into the abdominal cavity (intra-peritoneal). Learn more about chemotherapy at Washington Cancer Institute.
Radiation therapy is rarely used to treat ovarian cancer in the United States.
After surgery and chemotherapy, patients should have: