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Ovarian Cancer

Planned Parenthood Women's Health Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian Cancer at a Glance

  • A type of cancer that occurs in the ovaries
  • Women 55 and older are most at risk
  • Difficult to diagnose, but treatment is available

Ovarian cancer is a serious concern — especially for women older than 55. Whether you have ovarian cancer, or are a concerned friend, family member, or partner, you may have many questions. Here are the answers to questions people commonly ask about ovarian cancer.

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What Is Ovarian Cancer?

Women have two ovaries, one at the end of each fallopian tube. These almond-sized organs make eggs and sex hormones.

Ovarian cancer happens if abnormal cells in one or both of the ovaries grow uncontrollably. When this happens, the cancer cells can break through the surface of the ovary. It can then spread to other parts of the body.

How Common Is Ovarian Cancer?

About 22,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year in the U.S. And 1 out of 72 women will get it in her lifetime.

Ovarian cancer causes more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system. About 14,300 women die from it each year. Ovarian cancer ranks fifth in cancer deaths among women. So many women die from ovarian cancer because it is so difficult to detect at the earliest, most treatable stages.

Who Is Most at Risk for Ovarian Cancer?

Older women are most at risk for ovarian cancer — about half of the women who are diagnosed with ovarian cancer are 63 years or older.

Other risk factors include

  • a family history of ovarian or breast cancer 
  • having had cancer
  • never having been pregnant
  • obesity
  • infertility

Women who have never used birth control pills also have a higher risk for ovarian cancer.

Women in their 20s and 30s have a very low risk of ovarian cancer — even if they have a family history.

Can I Protect Myself from Ovarian Cancer?

Although ovarian cancer is difficult to detect during routine GYN exams, it is recommended that women see their health care providers regularly. Women should also be aware of the possible symptoms of ovarian cancer. The earlier ovarian cancer is detected and treated, the better.

Ovarian Cancer and the Pill
Birth control pills that contain the hormones estrogen and progestin reduce the risk of ovarian cancer greatly. Studies show that the longer a woman takes the pill, the less likely she is to develop ovarian cancer. Using the pill for 5 to 10 years can protect a woman from ovarian cancer for up to 20 years after she has stopped using it. Other combined methods that work like the pillthe patch and the ring — are also believed to protect against cancer of the ovaries.

What Are the Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer?

Ovarian cancer can cause symptoms, but they can be hard to recognize.

Those symptoms include

  • bloating
  • pelvic or abdominal pain or pressure
  • difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
  • having to urinate (pee) often or urgently

These symptoms are also common among women who do not have cancer. You should seek medical attention when these symptoms are a change from what is normal for you and if you start having them every day for several weeks.

How Is Ovarian Cancer Diagnosed?

Regular physical and pelvic exams increase the chance of early detection, because health care providers can check for tenderness and swelling. Blood tests, abdominal ultrasounds, MRIs, biopsies, and other tests can be used to diagnose or rule out ovarian cancer.

What Are the Treatments for Ovarian Cancer?

The main treatments for ovarian cancer are surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. In some cases two or even all of these treatments will be recommended. How much surgery is required depends on if the cancer has spread. When ovarian cancer is found in its early stages, treatment is most effective.


Will Ovarian Cancer Affect my Fertility?

Recent studies have shown that if the cancer has not spread beyond one ovary, women may still be able to get pregnant. But certain cancer treatments may decrease your ability to get pregnant. Talk with your health care provider about how any treatments you may have will affect your fertility.

Where Can I Get More Information About Ovarian Cancer?

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Ovarian Cancer