Women's Health: Ovarian Cancer
By: Jennifer Merritt

This page was created to inform others of ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer is known as a “silent killer” because there is no easy or reliable screening possible to detect abnormal cell growth. It is one of the most lethal gynecological malignancies. This research examines ovarian cancer including symptoms, risk factors, prevention, screening, and treatments.

Cancer cells of ovary. Coloured Scanning Electron Micrograph (SEM) Two types of cells are seen: some ciliated cells with tufts of cilia (yellow); abundant secretory cells with microvilli (purple). © Science Photo Library

Image borrowed from "Abbott Diagnostics Laboratories"

When we were told about this research assignment I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do until my partner chose to do hers on breast cancer. Immediately I chose to research ovarian cancer. I have relatives and friends who have had problem with their ovaries but that not been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer caught my attention because of how silent the disease actually is. Because there is no way to screen for ovarian cancer it is important for woman to pay attention to their bodies and to take notice if they are feeling differently.

Ovarian cancer (OC) is cancer of the ovaries and is most common in women who have already gone through menopause. Older woman have a higher risk for developing ovarian cancer than younger woman. “The median age for developing ovarian cancer is 62 years,” (Schlag R, Harris DH, Kwong S, Wright WE, page 10). Roughly about 20,000 women in the United States are told they have ovarian cancer each year. This makes ovarian cancer the second most common gynecologic cancer; uterine being first. (Edwards BK, Ward E, Kohler BA, Eheman C, Zauber AG, Anderson RN, Jemal A, Schymura MJ, Lansdorp-Vogelaar I, Seeff LC, van Ballegooijen M, Ries LA, page 545).


Ovarian cancer can be very deadly because there are no distinct symptoms. Common symptoms of ovarian cancer that are often mistaken for other illnesses are:

  • Pain in the pelvic or abdominal area.
  • Back pain.
  • Pain during intercourse.
  • Constipation
  • Ongoing unusual fatigue.
  • Being consistently tired.
  • Bloating.
  • Change in restroom habits (passing urine often).
  • Upset stomach or heartburn
  • Discharge from vagina that is abnormal for individual
  • If past menopause- abnormal bleeding

Although symptoms may seem minuet at first as the disease progresses symptoms become more severe.

Stages of Ovarian Cancer-

Stage I
Ovarian Cancer is confined to one or both ovaries.
Stage II
Ovarian Cancer had spread to other locations in the pelvis, such as the uterus or fallopian tubes.
Stage III
Ovarian Cancer had spread to the lining of the abdomen or to the lymph nodes within the abdomen. This is the most common stage of disease identified at the time of diagnosed.
Stage IV
Ovarian Cancer had spread to organs beyond the abdomen.

Risk Factors-
Some woman with few risk factors can develop ovarian cancer, while other women with more risk factors do not. All women are at risk simply because they have ovaries. Most women who are not considered high risk develop ovarian cancer and there is no way to tell if women will or will not contract OC. Increasing risk factors are as follows:

  • Middle-aged or older.
  • Have close family members on either parent's side with OC.
  • Had Breast, uterine, or colorectal (colon) cancer.
  • Eastern European (Ashkenazi) Jewish background.
  • Never given birth or have had problems conceiving.
  • Have endometriosis (condition where tissue from the lining of the uterus grows elsewhere in the body).
  • Have a family history of breast or OC with relative that has known deleterious mutation in BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 (genes).

Prevention is impossible because there is no way to prevent ovarian cancer. This is way ovarian cancer is the eighth most common cancer and the fifth leading cause of cancer death. This is why any woman can contract the disease; however there are some ways to reduce the risk.

  • Using birth control pills for more than five years.
  • Having had a tubal ligation (tubes tied), both ovaries removed, or a hysterectomy.
  • Having given birth.

The reason ovarian cancer can be so deadly is because there are no simple or reliable ways for doctors to test for OC. A woman’s annual Pap test does not screen for ovarian cancer. Women need to pay attention to their bodies and follow their internal instincts when they feel something is not right. If a woman feels abnormal she should ask her doctor to perform a rectovaginal pelvic examination, Transvaginal ultrasound, or CA-125 blood test. “Unfortunately, 75% of ovarian cancer cases are diagnoses in an advanced stage, primarily because symptoms that present in the early stages of the disease are often subtle, misinterpreted, inconsistent or ignored,” (Lawrenson K, Gayther SA, paragraph 13).


Once women are diagnosed they are sent primarily to a Gynecologic Oncologist, who specializes in the area of female reproductive cancer. There are two treatment plans that are used to battle ovarian cancer. Surgery may be used if necessary to remove or cut out the cancer tissue. Chemotherapy can also be used which involves the use of drugs to shrink or kill the cancer. Drugs could be in pill form or administered through an IV. Radiation is also used which is the use of high energy rays to kill the cancer cells. (Crijns APG, Fehrmann RSN, de Jong S, Gerbens F, Meersma GJ, page 6). It is very common for one or more treatment plans to be used.

Literature Cited:
Crijns APG, Fehrmann RSN, de Jong S, Gerbens F, Meersma GJ, et al. 2009 Survival-Related Profile, Pathways, and Transcription Factors in Ovarian Cancer.PLoS Med 6(2): e1000024. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000024

Edwards BK, Ward E, Kohler BA, Eheman C, Zauber AG, Anderson RN, Jemal A, Schymura MJ, Lansdorp-Vogelaar I, Seeff LC, van Ballegooijen M, Ries LA. Annual report to the nation on the status of cancer, 1975-2006, featuring colorectal cancer trends and impact of interventions (risk factors, screening, and treatment) to reduce future rates. Cancer 2010; 116(3):544-573.

Lawrenson K, Gayther SA, 2009
Ovarian Cancer: A Clinical Challenge That Needs Some Basic Answers.PLoS Med 6(2): e1000025.doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000025

Schlag R, Harris DH, Kwong S, Wright WE.
Ovarian Cancer in California.Sacramento, CA: California Department of Health Services, Cancer Surveillance Section, July 2001

University of Gothenburg;
Only women with Western Swedish breast cancer gene run higher risk of ovarian cancer. (2010, April). NewsRx Health,26. Retrieved May 17, 2010, from ProQuest Health and Medical Complete. (Document ID: 2009681171).