Gynecologic Cancer Care

Ovarian cancer is a disease in which, depending on the type and stage of the disease, malignant (cancerous) cells are found inside, near, or on the outer layer of the ovaries. An ovary is one of two small, almond-shaped organs located on each side of the uterus that store egg cells, also called germ cells, and produce female hormones estrogen and progesterone.

When ovarian cancer is diagnosed and treated in the earliest stages, the five-year survival rate is over 90 percent. Due to ovarian cancer’s nonspecific symptoms and lack of early detection tests, about 20 percent of all cases are found early, meaning in stage I or II.


One out of every 78 women will develop ovarian cancer in her lifetime. Common risk factors include:

  • Never having children
  • Infertility
  • Beginning your period early
  • Starting menopause late
  • Lifetime absence of oral contraception use
  • Family history of breast, ovarian, endometrial or colon cancer

The majority of ovarian cancers develop in women who have many ovulations (egg release from the ovary) during their lifetime. Bearing children and use of birth control pills both reduce the likelihood of ovarian cancer because they reduce the number of lifetime ovulations.

About 10 percent of women who develop ovarian cancer have inherited a gene from either parent that increases the risk. There are at least six genes that can cause inherited ovarian cancer, including BRCA-1, BRCA-2, MSH, MLH, PMS-1, and PMS-2. Warning signs that a gene abnormality may be present in a woman’s family include:

  • Multiple family members with breast cancer, ovarian cancer or colon cancer
  • Early age of cancer in affected relatives

A woman should inform her doctor if she is aware of a family history of cancer. Tests are available that can detect abnormal genes and if they are detected, prophylactic removal of the ovaries may greatly reduce the risk of ovarian cancer.


Ovarian cancer is difficult to detect, especially in the early stages. This is partly due to the fact that the ovaries are deep within the abdominal cavity. The following are often identified by women as some of the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Frequent or urgent urination
  • Feeling full quickly