Expert ovarian cancer care focused on your needs.
What you need to know about ovarian cancer
Ovarian cancer begins in the ovaries, where eggs are produced. Only people with ovaries get this type of cancer. The ovaries are made up by three types of cells, each of which can develop into a different type of cancer. Most tumors are benign and never spread beyond the ovary. But malignant (cancerous) tumors can grow and spread and need expert diagnosis and treatment.
One in 79 women is at risk for ovarian cancer, and white women are more at risk than African-American women. The disease mostly happens in women who are older. About half the women who are diagnosed with ovarian cancer are over 63.
The good news is that the rate of women being diagnosed with ovarian cancer has been falling over the past 20 years.
Types of ovarian cancer
There are three main types of ovarian cancer:
- Epithelial ovarian cancer. This is by far the most common type of ovarian cancer. It starts in cells on the surface of the ovary. Many epithelial ovarian cancers start in the fallopian tubes or peritoneal (the lining of the inside of the belly) epithelial cells. Then they go to the surface of the ovary.
- Germ cell ovarian cancer. This cancer starts in the cells that form eggs in the ovary. These rare tumors are most common in women in their teens and early twenties. There are different sub-types of germ cell tumors.
- Stromal cell cancer. This cancer forms in the tissue that makes certain female hormones and holds the ovaries in place. This is also a very rare form of ovarian cancer.
Symptoms of ovarian cancer
Ovarian cancer often doesn’t cause any symptoms until after it’s spread outside the ovary. Even then, it often causes vague symptoms that are a lot like those caused by other, more common diseases. Common symptoms can include:
- Bloating or a sense of fullness, especially after eating
- Pelvic pain or cramping
- Trouble eating or feeling full quickly
- Urinary frequency or urgency
- Indigestion, heartburn, nausea, or gas
- Belly swelling or discomfort
- Back pain
- Tiredness and lack of energy (fatigue)
- Loss of appetite or unplanned weight loss or weight gain
- Vaginal bleeding or discharge
- Irregular periods
- Pain during sex
Many of these symptoms may be caused by other health problems. But it's important to see your healthcare provider if you have these symptoms. Only a healthcare provider can tell if you have cancer.
Ovarian cancer experts
Legacy Cancer Institute, located in Portland, OR, ranks among the nation’s best cancer programs. We have a team of cancer specialists who work together to diagnose and develop a personalized treatment plan for you. Our team features some of the region’s most recognized women’s cancer specialists. Find the right provider and treatment close to home.
Legacy Cancer Institute is accredited as an integrated network cancer program by the American College of surgeons Commission on Cancer (CoC). Learn more about our quality cancer care.
Next steps after an ovarian cancer diagnosis
Being told you have ovarian cancer can be scary, and you may have many questions. It’s normal to feel afraid. Learning about your cancer and about the treatment options available to you can make you feel less afraid. You have people on your healthcare team to help.
At this point, you’ve likely had a physical exam and reviewed your health history with your provider. You may have also had a biopsy to confirm your diagnosis. Following a diagnosis of ovarian cancer, you may have more tests to help your doctor understand your cancer stage.
Cancer staging involves identifying where the cancer is located, if or where it has spread and if it is affecting other parts of your body. Knowing the stage allows your doctor to develop your personalized treatment plan.
Some tests your doctor may now recommend include:
- CA 125 assay: A blood test that measures the level of CA 125, sometimes a sign of ovarian cancer.
- Chest X-ray, CT scan, MRI or positron emission tomography (PET): Imaging technology to look inside the body.
- Pelvic exam: The doctor will inspect the vagina, cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries and rectum.
Customized treatment plans
Because each person and every cancer is different, your doctor uses your tests and exams to come up with an individual treatment plan. How long this takes depends on how complex your case is and your treatment goals. During this time, you build a relationship with your cancer doctors. You become a team for your care.
Open, honest communication can only benefit your relationship with your doctors. These tips can also help you get the most from this partnership:
- Prepare in advance: Write down your questions ahead of your visits. A few examples of smart questions:
- Why are we doing these tests?
- Why do you think this treatment is right?
- What side effects might this treatment cause?
- Find trustworthy resources: If you’re looking to learn more, rely on this website or sources your team recommends, so you can make decisions based on good information.
- Take a partner: Bringing a friend or family member to appointments can make you feel more confident and help you remember important details.
There are several ways to treat ovarian cancer depending on the type and location of the tumor(s). Options may include surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation. Women often receive a combination of treatments. Some patients may be candidates for our advanced brachytherapy program, hormone or targeted therapy. Robotic-assisted hysterectomy may be right for others.
Talk to your doctor to see if a clinical trial (research study) may be right for you.
You are not alone. Legacy offers support throughout your cancer journey, as well as care for your emotional, social and spiritual needs.