Ovarian Cancer

Published: .
Updated: .

Ovarian cancer is the ninth most common cancer among women, excluding non-melanoma skin cancers. It ranks fifth in cancer deaths among women, accounting for more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system. Ovarian cancer accounts for about 3 percent of all cancers in women. A woman's risk of getting ovarian cancer during her lifetime is about 1 in 71. Her lifetime chance of dying from ovarian cancer is about 1 in 95.

This cancer develops mainly in older women. About half of the women who are diagnosed with ovarian cancer are 60 years old or older, and ovarian cancer is most common in Caucasian women.

The American Cancer Society's most recent estimates for ovarian cancer in the United States for 2012 are:

  • About 22,280 women will receive a new diagnosis of ovarian cancer.
  • About 15,500 women will die from ovarian cancer.

What is ovarian cancer?

Ovarian cancer starts in a woman's ovaries. Women have two ovaries that are located in the pelvis, one on each side of the uterus. The ovaries make female hormones and produce eggs.

Signs and symptoms:

  • Vaginal bleeding, such as irregular periods, bleeding that is heavier than normal or that occurs when a woman is past menopause.
  • Discharge from the vagina that is not normal for the individual.
  • Pain or pressure in the pelvic or abdominal area.
  • Back pain.
  • Bloating or feeling full quickly while eating.
  • Change in bathroom habits, such as having to pass urine very often with greater than usual urgency, constipation, or diarrhea.

Paying attention to your body and know what is normal for you. If you have unusual vaginal bleeding, see a doctor right away. If you have any of the other signs for two weeks or longer and they are not normal for you, see a doctor. They may be caused by something other than cancer, but the only way to know is to see a doctor.

What increases a woman's chances of getting ovarian cancer?

There is no way to know if a woman will get ovarian cancer. However, there are several factors that may increase the chance that an individual will get it, including if she is:

  • Middle-aged or older
  • Have close family members (such as a mother, sister, aunt or grandmother) on either side of the family who have had ovarian cancer.
  • Have had breast, uterine or colorectal cancer.
  • Have an Eastern European (Ashkenazi) Jewish background.
  • Have never given birth or have had trouble getting pregnant.
  • Have endometriosis.
  • Have tested positive for a genetic abnormality called a BRCA1 or BRCA2.

Gynecologic Cancers:

Gynecologic cancers include: cervical, ovarian, uterine, vaginal and vulvar.

  • Cervical cancer: Begins in the cervix, the lower part of the uterus (or womb).
  • Ovarian cancer: Begins in the ovaries, located on each side of the uterus.
  • Endometrial (Uterine) cancer: Begins in the uterus, the pear-shaped organ in the woman's pelvis where the baby grows when a woman is pregnant.
  • Vaginal cancer: Begins in the vagina, the hollow, tube-like channel between the bottom of the uterus and the outside of the body, also known as the birth canal.
  • Vulvar cancer: Begins in the vulva, the outer part of the female genital organs, which includes the inner and outer lips of the vagina, the clitoris, and the opening of the vagina and its glands. The American Cancer Society's most recent estimates for vulvar cancer in the United States for 2012 are:
                          - About 4,490 cancers of the vulva will be diagnosed.
                          - About 950 women will die of this cancer.

In most cases, the cause of cancer is not known. Although, it is clear that certain changes in cells can cause cancer, and the cell changes can be acquired or inherited. If the changes are acquired they are caused by environmental factors and things people do such as smoking. Almost all cervical cancers and some vaginal and vulvar cancers are caused by human papillomavirus, also called HPV, which is an acquired virus. However, if the changes are inherited, they are passed from parent to child through genes.

For more information on St.Vincent Cancer Care, visit ourfightagainstcancer.org.