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 a combination of genes and the environment.

Risk Factors

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

  • Early first menstrual period and/or late menopause
  • Family history of ovarian cancer—especially in a mother or sister
  • BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes
  • No childbirth or breastfeeding
  • Not having tubal ligation
  • Certain health conditions, such as:
    • Endometriosis
    • Polycystic ovary syndrome
    • Obesity
  • A history of breast cancer or uterine cancer
  • Hormone replacement therapy use



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

  • Belly pain
  • Gas, indigestion, bloating, or cramps
  • Loose stools or constipation
  • Lack of hunger
  • Losing or gaining weight without trying
  • Abnormal bleeding from the vagina
  • Feeling tired
  • Problems breathing


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

Blood tests will be done to look for certain tumor markers.

Imaging tests will look for tumors and the spreading of cancer. They include:

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

The exam and test results are also used for staging. Staging outlines 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 the cancer, and often the nearby tissues, such as:
    • The uterus and fallopian tubes
    • Lymph nodes
  • Chemotherapy by mouth, injections, or IV—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 women 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.