About Ovarian Cancer

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About Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian epithelial cancer, fallopian tube cancer, or primary peritoneal cancer is a disease in which cancerous cells form in the tissues covering the ovary or lining the fallopian tube or peritoneum.

Signs & Symptoms

These are signs of ovarian cancer:

  • Pain, swelling or pressure in the abdomen or pelvis
  • Vaginal bleeding that is irregular
  • Vaginal discharge that is clear, white, or colored with blood
  • A lump in the pelvic area
  • Gas, bloating or constipation

Many other health problems can also cause these signs. If you have any of these signs, see your doctor as soon as possible.

Learn more about ovarian epithelial cancer, fallopian tube cancer, and primary peritoneal cancer from the National Cancer Institute.

Image of the Female Reproductive System

anatomical drawing of the female reproductive system

Anatomy of the female reproductive system. The organs in the female reproductive system include the uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes, cervix, and vagina. The uterus has a muscular outer layer called the myometrium and an inner lining called the endometrium.

Specialties & Treatments

The treatment or combination of treatments each patient has depends on the stage of the cancer, recommendations of the care team, and the patient’s wishes. These are the most common types of treatment: 

  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Targeted therapy

Huntsman Cancer Institute’s Gynecologic Cancers Program provides comprehensive, compassionate, state-of-the-art care for cancers of the female reproductive organs. Our experts treat and diagnose all types of these cancers and conditions.

Learn more about types of cancer treatments and cancer screenings.

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Causes & Risk Factors

Anything that increases your chance of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean you are sure to get cancer. It means your chances are higher than the average person’s. Talk with your doctor to learn more about your cancer risk.

These are risk factors for getting ovarian epithelial cancer, fallopian tube cancer, or primary peritoneal cancer:

  • A personal history of ovarian cancer or other ovarian disease
  • A family history of ovarian cancer in a mother, daughter, or sister
  • Changes in certain genes that increase the risk of ovarian, fallopian tube, and primary peritoneal cancer

Learn more about ways to prevent cancer and about family history and genetic counseling.

Diagnosis & Stages

Diagnosis of Ovarian Cancer

Doctors use these tests to diagnose ovarian epithelial cancer, fallopian tube cancer, or primary peritoneal cancer:

  • Pelvic exam: A health care provider checks the vagina, cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries, and rectum for signs of cancer.
  • Physical exam and history: A health care provider examines your body for signs of disease. Your personal health habits, past illnesses, and symptoms help guide the exam.
  • Laboratory tests: Through testing body tissues, blood, urine, or other substances in the body, your health care team can check to see how the organs are functioning. They can also look for substances that cells produce when cancer is present.
  • Imaging tests: Using dyes, x-rays, magnets, radio waves, and/or computer technology, your health care provider can create detailed images of internal organs. Your health care provider may inject or have you swallow a dye to help see the images.
  • Biopsy: The health care provider removes cell or tissue samples so they can be viewed under a microscope to check for signs of cancer.
  • Ultrasound: This procedure uses high-energy sound waves to create a picture of the internal organs.

Stages of Ovarian Cancer

Staging is the process that shows whether cancer has spread. Cancer spreads in the body in three ways: through tissue, the lymph system, or the blood.

These are the stages used for ovarian epithelia, fallopian tube, and primary peritoneal cancer:

  • Stage I (IA, IB, IC): The cancer is found in one or both of the ovaries or fallopian tubes.
  • Stage II (IIA, IIB): Cancer has spread from where it first formed into organs within the pelvis.
  • Stage III (IIIA, IIIB, IIIC): Cancer has spread outside the pelvis to other parts of the abdomen and/or to nearby lymph nodes.
  • Stage IV (IVA, IVB): Cancer has spread beyond the abdomen to other parts of the body such as the lungs.

When cancer spreads from where it started to another part of the body, it is called metastasis. These metastatic cancer cells are the same type of cancer as the primary tumor. For example, if ovarian cancer spreads to the bone, the cancer cells in the bone are actually ovarian cancer cells. The disease is metastatic ovarian cancer, not bone cancer.

Learn more about the stages of ovarian epithelial cancer, fallopian tube cancer, and peritoneal cancer from the National Cancer Institute.