Each year, about 22,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with ovarian cancer. The symptoms of ovarian cancer are often common and vague, which makes it difficult to diagnose.
There are more than 30 different types of ovarian tumors, which are categorized according to the cell type. Some are benign (noncancerous) and do not spread beyond the ovary. Malignant (cancerous) tumors can spread to other parts of the body.
Currently, there is no effective early detection method for ovarian cancer. It is usually diagnosed in advanced stages, and only about half of women survive longer than five years after diagnosis. For the 25 percent of ovarian cancers that are found early, the five-year survival rate is greater than 90 percent.
Studies have shown that prognosis and survival depend largely on how much tumor is left at the time of initial surgery. Patients who have no remaining tumor or with nodules less than one centimeter in diameter have the best chance for cure and long-term survival.
There are more than 30 different types of ovarian cancer, categorized by the type of cell where they originate.
The three most common types of ovarian cancer are:
Epithelial tumors occur in the epithelium, which is the tissue that covers the outside of the ovary. About 90 percent of ovarian cancers are of this type. The risk of epithelial ovarian cancer increases with age and occurs mostly in women over 60, but can develop at any age.
Germ cell tumors originate in the egg-producing cells found within the ovary. This type of ovarian cancer can occur in women of any age, but mostly affects adolescents and young adults under age 30. About 5 percent of all ovarian cancers are germ cell tumors. Sex cord stromal tumors develop in the connective tissue that holds the ovary together and produces the female hormones estrogen and progesterone. Sex cord stromal tumors are relatively rare, representing about 5 percent of all ovarian cancers. Women may feel some pain and abdominal discomfort in the early stages of disease.
Most women with ovarian cancer have some symptoms. However, these symptoms are often vague and may be attributed to less serious ailments such as indigestion, weight gain or the consequences of aging.
Contact your doctor if any of the following symptoms occur:
- General abdominal discomfort or pain (gas, indigestion, pressure, swelling, bloating, cramps)
- Bloating and/or a feeling of fullness, even after a light meal
- Nausea, diarrhea, constipation or frequent urination
- Unexplained weight loss or gain
- Loss of appetite
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding
- Unusual fatigue