Patients often present nonspecific pelvic or abdominal symptoms, such as bloating, frequent urination, irregular periods or unexpected vaginal bleeding (after menopause), indigestion, fatigue, and pain in the back, abdomen, or pelvis. Because symptoms are similar to those of other common illnesses and/or some female reproductive conditions, ovarian cancer can be difficult to diagnose at an early stage.
Ovarian Cancer Overview
What is Ovarian Cancer?
Ovarian epithelial cancer begins in the tissue that covers the ovaries, which are the reproductive glands that produce eggs (ova). While there are different types of ovarian cancer, such as germ cell and stromal tumors, ovarian epithelial cancer is the most common, accounting for about 90% of ovarian cancer patients. This cancer typically occurs in women who are past menopause (approximately age 50 and up), with about half of the women who are diagnosed at age 63 or older. More Caucasian women are affected than African-American women.
There is no way to completely prevent ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer is caused by some factors that you can control - like obesity and smoking, but also other factors that you can not. Find out what you can do to avoid ovarian cancer from developing.
There is not a standard test to screen for ovarian cancer, so it’s important to watch out for symptoms and report them to your doctor. In some cases, ovarian cancer can be difficult to diagnose because symptoms may not be noticeable until the cancer has progressed. If you find you're noticing signs or symptoms of ovarian cancer, your doctor may run some diagnostic tests including:
- Pelvic Exam
- Blood Tests
If you’ve been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, your gynecologic oncologist will determine the stage of your cancer to help decide on a treatment plan. Ovarian cancer stages range from Stages I - IV, based on whether the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. The doctor may order tests to determine whether the cancer has spread, including:
- CT scan
- Chest x-ray
The gynecologic oncologists at Virginia Oncology Associates will develop a cancer treatment plan that’s best for you based on your type and stage of ovarian cancer and your general overall health. Your treatment plan will typically involve surgery. Although, chemotherapy and other targeted therapies might also be used.
New treatments for ovarian cancer are currently under investigation and available to patients in Virginia. Virginia Oncology Associates is a part of the US Oncology Network’s Research Program offering more than 70 active cancer research trials at any given time.
Those who want to know whether their ovarian cancer was caused by a known genetic mutation causing hereditary ovarian syndrome can set up a genetic counseling session. Our Genetic Counselors can help you learn more about the genetic testing process and whether it’s right for you or members of your family.
Gynecologic cancer survivorship resources, including support groups, are available to ovarian cancer patients and family members. We encourage you and your family or caregivers to take advantage of these local resources including the Cancer Action Coalition of Virginia.
To find out more about all types of ovarian cancer, including germ cell tumors, please visit the National Cancer Institute website or ask your cancer care team about your individual situation.