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Ovarian Cancer

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Ovarian cancer develops in the ovary and falls into one of three categories: epithelial, stromal, and germ cell. Epithelial tumors arise from the surface of the ovary and account for about 90 percent of all ovarian cancers. Nationally, ovarian cancer is the ninth most commonly diagnosed cancer in women and the fifth-leading cause of cancer death in women. Ovarian cancer is a serious disease, but if caught in its early stages before it spreads, the overall survival rate approaches 90 percent.


  • In 2013, 22,240 women are expected to be diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and approximately 14,030 women will die from the disease in the United States.
  • One in 73 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer during her lifetime.
  • An estimated 1,628 Texas women will face an ovarian cancer diagnosis in 2013. The disease is expected to claim the lives of 1,008 Texas women in 2013.

Risk Factors 

  • Family History: Women with family members with ovarian cancer may be at increased risk of developing the disease. Increased risk of ovarian cancer may be passed through the father’s side of the family as frequently as through maternal relatives. If you have a family history of cancer, genetic testing is available and can help determine your risk.
  • Age: Approximately 50 percent of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer are over 63 years old.
  • Parity: Having one or more children and breastfeeding may reduce the risk of ovarian cancer. Women who have never given birth face a higher risk.
  • Breast Cancer: Women who have had breast cancer or have a family history of breast cancer face a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer. Some of the genetic disorders that increase a woman’s risk for breast cancer, such as those with a BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutation, also significantly increases one’s risk for developing ovarian cancer.
  • Obesity: Being overweight increases the risk of ovarian cancer.


Currently, there is no standard screening test for ovarian cancer, as the Pap test screens only for cervical cancer and some infections. Therefore, women should be aware of the symptoms for ovarian cancer, as early detection is critical. Women should consult their physician if they persistently experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Abnormal bloating
  • Pain in the pelvis or abdomen
  • Urinary symptoms (urgency or frequency)
  • Trouble eating or feeling full quickly


Ovarian cancer cannot be prevented in most cases, but women can take steps to decrease the risk of developing the disease.

  • Oral contraceptives: Women who have used birth control pills for more than five years reduce their risk by 50 percent, compared to women who have never taken oral contraceptives.
  • Oophorectomy or salpingectomy: A preventive removal of the ovaries or fallopian tubes may reduce a woman’s risk of developing ovarian cancer, but these procedures should only be performed with a legitimate medical reason.
  • In women with the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genetic mutation, studies show that the removal of the ovaries can reduce their risk of ovarian cancer by more than 80 percent and also reduce their risk of breast cancer.

Treatment Options 

Women with ovarian cancer should consult a gynecologic oncologist to determine their specific treatment needs. Treatment for ovarian cancer may include surgery and chemotherapy, or a combination of the two. For younger patients whose cancer has not spread, it may be possible to save the unaffected ovary and fallopian tube to preserve fertility.

Sources: American Cancer Society, National Cancer Institute, Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, and Texas Cancer Registry