Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Ovarian Cancer Health Center

Font Size

Frequently Asked Questions About Ovarian Cancer

  • What Is Ovarian Cancer?
  • Answer:

    Ovarian cancer is a cancer that originates in the ovaries, the female reproductive organs located in the pelvis. The ovaries make female hormones and store eggs that, if fertilized by sperm, can develop into a baby. Women have two ovaries, one on each side of the uterus. Tumors found in the ovaries may be noncancerous tissue growths (cysts) or cancerous growths that may spread to other parts of the body.

  • Why Should I Be Concerned About Ovarian Cancer?
  • Answer:

    About one in every 68 women in the U.S. will develop ovarian cancer. Most cases occur in women between the ages of 50 to 75. However, this disease can also affect younger women. Ovarian cancer causes more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system. The sooner ovarian cancer is found and treated, the better a woman's chance for recovery.

  • What Are the Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer?
  • Answer:

    Ovarian cancer can be difficult to detect early. Many times, women with ovarian cancer have no symptoms or just mild symptoms until the disease is in an advanced stage. Scientists are studying ways to detect ovarian cancer before symptoms develop.

    Ovarian cancer symptoms can include the following:

    • Urinary frequency, constipation, or diarrhea
    • Shortness of breath
    • Abdominal pressure, bloating, or discomfort
    • Nausea, indigestion, or gas
    • Unusual fatigue
    • Unexplained weight loss or gain
    • Abnormal bleeding
    • Difficulty eating, or feeling full quickly

  • Who Is at Risk for Ovarian Cancer?
  • Answer:

    The exact causes of ovarian cancer are not known. However, studies show that the following factors may increase the chance of developing this disease:

    • Family history. First-degree relatives (mother, daughter, sister) of a woman who has had ovarian cancer are at increased risk of developing this type of cancer themselves. The likelihood is especially high if two or more first-degree relatives have had the disease. The risk is somewhat less, but still above average, if other relatives (grandmother, aunt, cousin) have had ovarian cancer. A family history of breast or colon cancer is also associated with an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer.
    • Age. The likelihood of developing ovarian cancer increases as a woman gets older. Most ovarian cancers occur in women over the age of 50, with the highest risk in women over 75.
    • Childbearing. Women who have never had children are more likely to develop ovarian cancer than women who have had children. In fact, the more children a woman has had, the less likely she is to develop ovarian cancer.
    • Personal history. Women who have had breast or colon cancer may have a greater chance of developing ovarian cancer than women who have not had breast or colon cancer.
    • Fertility drugs. Drugs that cause a woman to ovulate may slightly increase a woman's chance of developing ovarian cancer. Researchers are studying this possible association.
    • Talc. Some studies suggest that women who have used talc in the genital area for many years may be at increased risk of developing ovarian cancer.
    • Hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Some evidence suggests that women who use HRT after menopause may have a slightly increased risk of developing ovarian cancer. However, this connection is somewhat controversial.

  • Are There Ways That At-Risk Women Can Prevent Ovarian Cancer?
  • Answer:

    Women who are at high risk for ovarian cancer due to a family history of the disease may consider having their ovaries removed before cancer develops -- called a prophylactic oophorectomy. This procedure usually, but not always, protects women from developing ovarian cancer. The risks associated with this surgery and its side effects should be carefully considered. A woman should discuss the possible benefits and risks with her doctor based on her unique situation.

    Having one or more of the risk factors mentioned here does not mean that a woman is sure to develop ovarian cancer, but the chance may be higher than average.

  • Are There Ways to Reduce a Woman's Risk for Ovarian Cancer?
  • Answer:

    Some studies have shown that breastfeeding and taking birth control pills may decrease a woman's likelihood of developing ovarian cancer. These factors decrease the number of times a woman ovulates, and studies suggest that reducing the number of ovulations during a woman's lifetime may lower the risk of ovarian cancer.

    Women who have had an operation that prevents pregnancy (tubal ligation) or have had their uterus and cervix removed (hysterectomy) also have a lower risk of developing ovarian cancer. In addition, some evidence suggests that reducing the amount of fat in the diet may lower the risk of developing ovarian cancer. Exercise may also reduce the risk of ovarian cancer.

  • Is There a Link Between Ovarian Cancer and Other Cancers?
  • Answer:

    A woman with a significant family history of breast and/or ovarian cancer has a higher risk of getting these cancers. Breast and ovarian cancer can be caused by an inherited mutation in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. However, not every woman who has an altered BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene will get cancer, because genes are not the only factor that affects cancer risk. Both men and women have BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, so alterations in these genes can be passed down from either the mother or the father.

    There is also a link between ovarian cancer and colorectal and uterine cancer.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Arnold Wax, MD on June 03, 2012

Today on WebMD

what is your cancer risk
HEALTH CHECK
ovarian cancer overview slideshow
SLIDESHOW
 
cancer fighting foods
SLIDESHOW
15 Cancer Symptoms Women Ignore
FEATURE
 
Integrative Medicine Cancer Quiz
QUIZ
Lifestyle Tips for Depression Slideshow
SLIDESHOW
 
Screening Tests for Women
Slideshow
Graphic of ovaries within reproductive system
VIDEO
 
Ovarian Cancer Marker
VIDEO
Pets Improve Your Health
SLIDESHOW
 
Vitamin D
SLIDESHOW
Healthy meal with salmon
Article