The most common type of ovarian cancer is called ovarian epithelial cancer. It begins in the tissue that covers the ovaries. Cancer sometimes begins at the end of the fallopian tube near the ovary and spreads to the ovary. Cancer can also begin in the peritoneum and spread to the ovary. The stages and treatment are the same for ovarian epithelial, fallopian tube, and primary peritoneal cancers.
Another type of ovarian cancer is ovarian germ cell tumor, which is much less common. It begins in the germ (egg) cells in the ovary. Ovarian low malignant potential tumor is a type of ovarian disease in which abnormal cells form in the tissue that covers the ovaries, but it rarely becomes cancer.
Signs & Symptoms
Ovarian cancer does not cause any noticeable symptoms in the early stages. The symptoms most associated with ovarian cancer tend to develop in the later stages of the condition, as growths put pressure on the bladder, uterus, and rectum. However, these symptoms of ovarian cancer can develop at any stage of the condition and include:
- pelvic or abdominal pain or cramping
- feeling full quickly after starting to eat or lack of appetite
- indigestion or upset stomach
- the need to urinate more frequently or urgently than normal
- a pressure in the lower back or pelvis
- unexplained exhaustion
- back pain
- increase abdominal girth or abdominal swelling
- painful sex
- menstrual changes
- weight loss
Please click here to view and print a chart on common symptoms of gynecologic cancers.
Risk factors that may make some people more likely to develop ovarian cancer than others include:
- a family history of breast, ovarian, or uterine cancer
- having the BRCA1 and BRAC2 gene
- having Lynch syndrome
- never being pregnant
- some fertility and hormone medications
- age, most cases develop after menopause
It’s also a good idea for those who have a strong family history of breast, ovarian, uterine, or colon cancer to talk to their doctors about undergoing genetic counseling.
One of our gynecologic cancer specialists, Marcia C. Bowling, MD, Ajit Gubbi, DO or Dené C. Wrenn, MD, MS, can help you determine the best care plan for you. Standard treatments for ovarian cancer include:
- Tumor debulking surgery: When performing surgery for ovarian cancer or fallopian tube cancer, the goal of the surgery is to remove all visible signs of cancer. It also includes removing areas to which the cancer may have spread. This includes removal of the uterus, cervix, both fallopian tubes, ovaries, the omentum, and possible lymph nodes. These areas may also be immersed in fluid which is then removed and sent for evaluation to see if there are any free-floating cancer cells.
- Unilateral salpingo-oophorectomy: A surgical procedure to remove one ovary and one fallopian tube.
- Bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy: A surgical procedure to remove both ovaries and both fallopian tubes.
- Omentectomy: A surgical procedure to remove the omentum (tissue in the peritoneum that contains blood vessels, nerves, lymph vessels, and lymph nodes).
- Lymph node biopsy: The removal of all or part of a lymph node. A pathologist views the tissue under a microscope to look for cancer cells.
- Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing.
- Targeted therapy is a type of treatment that uses drugs or other substances to identify and attack specific cancer cells.
- New types of treatment are being tested in clinical trials.
- Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing.
- Immunotherapy is a treatment that uses the patient’s immune system to fight cancer. Substances made by the body or made in a laboratory are used to boost, direct, or restore the body’s natural defenses against cancer. This type of cancer treatment is also called biotherapy.