Ovarian cancer is a disease of women that begins in one or both of the ovaries; the hormone and egg (ova) producing organ of the female reproductive system. What type of ovarian cancer you have is determined by where it is found in the ovary:
  • Epithelial ovarian cancer, the most common type, is located in the cells that cover the surface of the ovary. This accounts for nearly 9 out of 10 diagnoses of cancers. 
  • Germ cell ovarian cancer is less common and found in the egg producing cells
  • Stromal ovarian cancer is found in the estrogen and progesterone producing tissues that hold the ovary together.
  • American Cancer Society estimates that 20,000 women in the United States will receive a diagnosis of ovarian cancer each year and nearly 15,000 women will die from the disease. 
  • Approximately 1 woman in 70, or 1.4%, will develop ovarian cancer during her lifetime
  • Ovarian cancer is not a common cancer, but it is the 5th most common cause of cancer death among women.
Early ovarian cancer may not produce symptoms that are easily diagnosed as cancer. The symptoms are often vague and gastrointestinal, which often results in an initial diagnosis of another condition.

Recent studies have shown that the following symptoms are much more likely to occur in women with ovarian cancer than in women in the general population. The frequency and/or number of these symptoms are a key factor in the diagnosis of ovarian cancer.

If you have been experiencing the following symptoms regularly, you should consult your Riverside obstetrician/gynecologist or physician. 
  • Abdominal pressure, fullness, swelling, or bloating
  • Urinary urgency
  • Pelvic discomfort or pain
  • Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
  • Other symptoms that you may be experiencing include:
  • Persistent indigestion, gas, or nausea
  • Unexplained changes in bowel habits, including diarrhea or constipation
  • Changes in bladder habits, including a frequent need to urinate
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss or gain
  • Increased abdominal girth or clothes fitting tighter around your waist
  • Pain during intercourse
  • A persistent lack of energy
  • Low back pain
  • Unusual vaginal bleeding (heavy periods, or bleeding after menopause)

These symptoms are most often not due to cancer, but only your healthcare professional can tell for sure. 

Risk Factors
Ovarian cancer is not a common cancer, but several risk factors have been identified. These risk factors do not mean that you will develop ovarian cancer, but that your risk level is higher than average. Women identified as high risk may have one or more of the following factors:

Inherited gene mutations

Most often cause both ovarian and breast cancer, inherited gene mutations are changes in the breast cancer 1 gene (BRCA1) or breast cancer 2 gene (BRCA2)Although these genes were originally identified with breast cancer, they are also found in about 5 to 10 percent of women with ovarian cancer. This mutation is more frequently found in women of Eastern European (Ashkenazi) Jewish heritage.

The inherited gene mutation, hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer, has been linked to an increased risk for ovarian cancer.

Family History

Your lifetime risk of developing ovarian cancer increases five percent if you have a first degree relative; mother, daughter or sister, with the disease.


Most, but not all, ovarian cancer develops in post-menopause as a woman's age increases.

Childbearing status

Women who have had at least one pregnancy have a lower risk of the disease. Use of oral contraceptive lessens your risk.


Women who have unexplained infertility and never conceive seem to have an increased risk of the disease.

Ovarian Cysts

Women who develop ovarian cysts in post menopause have an increased risk that they are cancerous.

Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)

Research on the link between postmenopausal use of hormone replacement drugs and an increase in the occurrence of ovarian cancer are inconsistent. However, a large study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in 2006, indicated that women who use hormone replacement therapy for 5 years or more and have not had a hysterectomy face a significant increase in the risk of ovarian cancer.

Obesity in early adulthood

Women, who are classified as obese at age 18, increase their risk of ovarian cancer at a pre-menopausal age.