Women's Health

What you need to know about ovarian cancer



Ovarian cancer, cancer of the ovaries, is often called a silent killer because it has no symptoms in the early stages and signs like bloating can be easy to overlook.

Ovarian cancer rates are falling in the United States, but it is still one of the most common cancers in women.

About 1 in 78 women in the United States will get ovarian cancer in her lifetime.

Anyone with ovaries can develop ovarian cancer, but certain groups have a higher risk

  • Most new diagnoses are in women aged 63 or older

  • Ovarian cancer affects more white women than black women.

There are over 30 subtypes of ovarian cancer. The 3 main types are:

  • Epithelial carcinomas of the ovary (85% to 90% of cases): the most common, often diagnosed at an advanced stage. Affects the outer surface of the ovary.

  • Germ cell tumors (2%): Usually affect women in their teens or twenties. Starts inside the ova (eggs).

  • Stromal cell tumors (1%): The rarest form, often found at an early stage. Grows in the tissues around the ovaries.

Ovarian Cancer Stages and Survival Rates

Ovarian cancer is given a stage when it is diagnosed. The earlier the stage, the higher the chances of successful treatment.

  • Step 1: Earliest disease, tumor has not spread
  • 2nd step: The cancer has spread to nearby organs, such as the uterus
  • Step 3: The cancer has spread beyond nearby organs to the lymph nodes or lining of your abdomen
  • Stage 4 (metastatic ovarian cancer): Cancer has moved to the lungs, liver and/or other distant organs

Ovarian Cancer Symptoms

In the early stages, the symptoms of ovarian cancer can be so subtle that they can be mistaken for other problems like irritable bowel syndrome, a urinary tract infection, or even constipation. By the time the symptoms are more noticeable, the disease has often spread. This is why early detection is vital.

The most common signs and symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain and bloating

  • Pelvic/lower back pain Feeling full quickly or difficulty eating

  • Urgent and frequent urination

  • Constipation or diarrhea

  • Fatigue/low energy

  • Nausea Vomiting

  • Weightloss

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding/discharge

Ovarian cancer tests

Blood tests

Tumor markers: Helps identify cancer cells in your body

Genetic test: Looks for mutations in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene that indicate a higher risk of developing hereditary ovarian cancer

Complete blood count (CBC): Provides information about the health of your body

Complete Metabolic Panel (CMP): Provides information on metabolism and chemical balance


Ultrasounds, computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) Show what is going on inside your body – if there is a lump, where it is and how big it is.

If you have any concerns or symptoms, especially if you have a family history of ovarian cancer, talk to your healthcare provider. Be proactive with your health!

This resource was created with support from Merck.



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