About Ovarian Cancer: The Basics

There are five main types of cancer that affect a woman’s reproductive organs: cervical, ovarian, uterine, vaginal, and vulvar.

What Is Ovarian Cancer?

Ovarian cancer is the 5th leading cause of cancer-related deaths in women ages 35-74.

It’s a disease in which malignant (cancerous) cells are found inside, near or on the outer layer of ovaries. Affecting nearly 20,000 women in the United States annually, it normally goes undetected until it spreads within the pelvis and belly. At this late stage, ovarian cancer is difficult to treat and can be fatal.


Currently, there are no existing screening tests for ovarian cancer. A Pap test does not test for ovarian cancer; it screens for cervical cancer.

Since there is no diagnostic tool for ovarian cancer, symptom awareness remains of key importance. Early detection saves lives. However, there are often no symptoms in the early stages. Symptoms may arise during later stages, but are often non-specific such as:

  • Bloating
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
  • Urinary symptoms (urgency or frequency)
  • Fatigue
  • Pain with intercourse


Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation may be used to treat ovarian cancer, depending on the disease’s stage.

  • Surgery generally removes all visible tumors and cancer tissues. More extensive surgery removes the ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, nearby lymph nodes and abdominal tissue where the cancer often spreads.
  • Chemotherapy uses medicine to kill remaining cancer cells after surgery.
  • Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays to destroy cancer cells that remain in the pelvic area.

Side effects differ depending on treatment type, age, and overall health but may include: hair loss, nausea and vomiting, fatigue, diarrhea and constipation, nerve problems, oral health issues, sexuality and intimacy issues, and “chemobrain” in which women experience forgetfulness and have trouble concentrating.

Dealing with Ovarian Cancer

A diagnosis of ovarian cancer can be extremely challenging. Here are some suggestions that may make dealing with cancer easier:

Surround Yourself With Support – Find someone you may feel comfortable discussing your feelings with. It can be a friend, family member or formal support group. Support groups are also available for families of cancer survivors.

Take Time For Yourself – Eating well, neighborhood walks, relaxing baths, and a good night’s sleep can help combat stress and fatigue.

Let people help – The effects of cancer and its treatments can be exhausting. Let people know what would be most useful for you.


Have Questions? Questions to Ask Your Health Care Provider About Ovarian Cancer

Coping With A Loved One’s Diagnosis? When a Loved One Has Ovarian Cancer


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