Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer begins in the ovaries, the reproductive glands on each side of the uterus that produce eggs and hormones. Ovarian cancer often goes undetected until it has spread within the pelvis and abdomen. At this late stage, ovarian cancer is more difficult to treat and is frequently fatal. Earl
Early-stage ovarian cancer rarely causes any symptoms. Advanced-stage ovarian cancer may cause few and nonspecific symptoms that are often mistaken for more common benign conditions, such as constipation or irritable bowel. Signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer may include:
  • Abdominal bloating or swelling
  • Quickly feeling full when eating
  • Weight loss
  • Discomfort in the pelvis area
  • Changes in bowel habits, such as constipation
  • A frequent need to urinate
In general, cancer begins when a genetic mutation turns normal cells into abnormal cancer cells. Cancer cells quickly multiply, forming a mass (tumor). They can invade nearby tissues and break off from an initial tumor to spread elsewhere in the body (metastasize). A woman’s lifetime risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer is greatly increased if she inherits a harmful mutation in BRCA1 or BRCA2. Learn more about BRCA mutations, cancer risk, and genetic testing at the National Cancer Institute.
Standard treatment of ovarian cancer usually involves surgery, chemotherapy and/or targeted therapy. New types of treatment are being tested in clinical trials. Patients with any stage of ovarian cancer may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial.


Treatment generally involves removing both ovaries, the fallopian tubes, the uterus as well as nearby lymph nodes and a fold of fatty abdominal tissue (omentum) where ovarian cancer often spreads. Less extensive surgery may be possible if the cancer was diagnosed at a very early stage. For women with stage I ovarian cancer, surgery may involve removing one ovary and its fallopian tube.


After surgery, chemotherapy will likely be administered to kill any remaining cancer cells. Chemotherapy drugs can be injected into a vein or directly into the abdominal cavity or both. Chemotherapy may be used as the initial treatment in some women with advanced ovarian cancer.

Targeted Therapy

Targeted therapy is a type of treatment that uses drugs or other substances to identify and attack specific cancer cells without harming normal cells. Targeted therapies are usually referred to as maintenance therapies to prevent recurrence although some may be given with chemotherapy during initial treatment and then continued after chemotherapy.
  • Monoclonal antibody therapy is a type of targeted therapy that uses antibodies made in the laboratory, from a single type of immune system cell. These antibodies can identify substances on cancer cells or normal substances that may help cancer cells grow. The antibodies attach to the substances and kill the cancer cells, block their growth, or keep them from spreading. Monoclonal antibodies are given by infusion. They may be used alone or to carry drugs, toxins, or radioactive material directly to cancer cells.
  • Poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase inhibitors (PARP inhibitors) are targeted therapy drugs that block DNA repair and may cause cancer cells to die.
  • Angiogenesis inhibitors are targeted therapy drugs that may prevent the growth of new blood vessels that tumors need to grow and may kill cancer cells.
Visit the National Cancer Institute (NCI) for more detailed information about the treatment of ovarian cancer.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides information, US statistics, and resources related to ovarian cancer. Globe-athon to End Women's Cancer offers a collection of educational video lectures for the general public in which experts cover a variety of topics related to women's cancer. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) is a reliable source for in-depth information about many cancers including prevention, screening, treatment and research for ovarian, fallopian tube, and primary peritoneal cancer. SurvivorNet provides videos and articles for the general public vetted by experts in gynecologic oncology. The content covers a variety of topics related to ovarian cancer. Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered (FORCE) provides resources to improve the lives of individuals and families affected by hereditary breast, ovarian, and related cancers.
Global Cancer Observatory 2018 Fact Sheet on worldwide incidence, mortality and prevalence of ovarian cancer. The Global Cancer Observatory  is an interactive web-based platform presenting global cancer statistics to inform cancer control and research.  It uses data from the International Agency for Research on Cancer which is a specialized agency of the World Health Organization.