Ovarian Cancer



Cancer happens when cells divide without control or order. These cells grow together to form a tumor. They can invade and damage nearby tissues. They can also spread to other parts of the body.

It is not clear what causes changes in the cells. It is likely due to genes and the environment.

Risk Factors

Ovarian cancer is most common in females 50 years of age and older. Other things that may raise the risk are:

  • Early first menstrual period and/or late menopause
  • A family history of ovarian cancer—especially in a mother or sister
  • BRCA1 or BRCA2 genetic mutations
  • Not delivering a child or breastfeeding
  • Not having tubal ligation
  • Certain health problems, such as:
    • Endometriosis
    • Polycystic ovary syndrome
    • Obesity
  • A history of breast cancer or uterine cancer



A person may not have symptoms until ovarian cancer is advanced. Problems may be:

  • Belly pain
  • Gas, indigestion, bloating, or cramps
  • Diarrhea or problems passing stool (poop)
  • Lack of hunger
  • Losing or gaining weight without trying
  • Abnormal bleeding from the vagina
  • Feeling tired
  • Problems breathing


The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A physical and pelvic exam will be done.

Blood tests will be done to look for signs that point to a tumor.

Pictures will be done to look for tumors and the spreading of cancer. They include:

  • Ultrasound of the pelvic organs
  • CT scan
  • MRI scan
  • Lower GI series

The exam and test results are also used for staging to find out how much cancer has spread.



The goal is to remove the cancer. Treatment depends on the type and stage of the cancer. More than one treatment may be needed. Options are:

  • Surgery—to remove cancer, and often the nearby tissues, such as:
    • The uterus and fallopian tubes
    • Lymph nodes
  • Chemotherapy—to kill the cancer cells

Radiation therapy may be used to treat areas where the cancer has spread.


The risk of this problem may be lowered by:

  • Eating a low fat, high fiber diet with lots of vegetables
  • Surgery to remove the ovaries and fallopian tubes—in females with a genetic or family history of ovarian cancer
  • Taking birth control pills
  • Breastfeeding

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.