Ovarian Cancer

The Story in Numbers 

While the rate at which women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer has been slowly falling over the past 20 years, almost 20,000 women in the United States will receive a new diagnosis of ovarian cancer in 2023, according to the American Cancer Society. 

  • Ovarian cancer ranks fifth in cancer deaths among women, accounting for more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system. 

  • This cancer mainly develops in older women. 

  • About half of the women who are diagnosed with ovarian cancer are 63 years or older. 

  • It is more common in white women than African-American women. 

  • Ovarian cancer can run in families. Your ovarian cancer risk is increased if your mother, sister, or daughter has (or has had) ovarian cancer. Increased risk can also come from your father's side. A family history of some other types of cancer, such as colorectal and breast cancer, is linked to an increased risk of ovarian cancer. 

What is Ovarian Cancer? 

Ovarian cancer begins in the ovaries, reproductive glands found only in women. 

The ovaries produce eggs for reproduction. The eggs travel through the fallopian tubes into the uterus where the fertilized egg implants and develops into a fetus. The ovaries are also the main source of the female hormones estrogen and progesterone. One ovary is on each side of the uterus in the pelvis. 

Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer 

Early cancers of the ovaries often cause no symptoms. When ovarian cancer causes symptoms, they tend to be symptoms that are more commonly caused by other things. These symptoms include: 

  • Abdominal swelling or bloating (due to a mass or a buildup of fluid) 

  • Pelvic pressure or abdominal pain 

  • Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly 

  • Urinary symptoms (having to go urgently or often) 

Most of these symptoms can also be caused by other less serious conditions. These symptoms can be more severe when they are caused by ovarian cancer, but that isn’t always true. What is most important is that they are a change from how a woman usually feels. 

If you have symptoms like those of ovarian cancer almost daily for more than a few weeks, and they can't be explained by other more common conditions, report them to your health care professional—preferably a gynecologist—right away. 

Learn more about risk factors, staging and treatment from the American Cancer Society


After the diagnostic tests are done, your cancer care team will recommend one or more treatment options. Often, two or more different types of treatments are used. The main treatments for ovarian cancer are: 

  • Surgery 

  • Chemotherapy 

  • Hormone therapy 

  • Targeted therapy 

  • Radiation therapy 

The choice of treatment depends largely on the type of cancer and the stage of the disease. The exact stage may not be known in patients who did not have surgery as their first treatment. Treatment then is based on other available information, including: 

  • Your general state of health 

  • Whether you plan to have children, and other personal considerations 

Age alone isn’t a determining factor since several studies have shown that older women tolerate ovarian cancer treatments well. Be sure you understand all the risks and side effects of the various therapies before making a decision about treatment.