Ovarian Cancer Basics

PatientDRreadingLike all cancers, ovarian cancer is not a single disease, but a category of many diseases. What these diseases have in common is that they start in the ovaries or in the opening of the fallopian tube. But just as each woman who develops ovarian cancer is a unique individual, her cancer is unique.

Facts & Figures

  • The cause of ovarian cancer is unknown.
  • Ovarian cancer most commonly occurs in women over age 50, but it can also affect younger women.
  • Ovarian cancer is the 9th most common type of cancer in women.
  • About 22,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year. Of these women, 15,000 will lose their battle, making ovarian cancer the most lethal gynecologic malignancy and the 5th leading cause of cancer deaths in women.
  • One of the primary challenges of ovarian cancer is that initial symptoms are generally mild, making early detection difficult. Only 24% of ovarian cancers are detected at an early stage before it has spread outside the ovaries.
  • Ovarian cancer develops when normal control processes stop functioning and cause cells in the ovary to divide and grow uncontrollably. This results in a disordered accumulation of cells that eventually grow into a mass called a tumor.
  • Not all tumors are cancerous. Cancerous tumors have one or more of these three properties:
    • Uncontrolled cell growth (division beyond the normal limits);
    • Cell invasion (intrusion on and destruction of adjacent tissues);
    • Metastasis (cells spread to other locations in the body via lymph or blood).
  • These three properties differentiate malignant (cancerous) tumors from benign tumors, which are self-limited, do not invade, and do not metastasize.

Types of Ovarian Cancer

There are three main types of ovarian cancer, distinguished by the type of cells in which they start:

  • Epithelial ovarian tumors – derived from the cells on the surface of the ovary or fallopian tube;
  • Germ cell ovarian tumors – derived from the cells that produce eggs;
  • Cord-stromal cell ovarian tumors – derived from the connective tissue within the ovary.

Stages of Ovarian Cancer

Staging describes disease progression and where the tumor has spread. It is used to guide treatment selection and to better understand a patient’s odds of survival. Ovarian cancer is usually staged during surgery.

There are 4 main stages of ovarian cancer.

  • Stage I – Growth of tumor is limited to one or both ovaries.
  • Stage II – In addition to being in one or both ovaries, the tumor has spread to other areas of the pelvis (such as the Fallopian tubes, uterus, bladder or colon).
  • Stage III – Tumor is in one or both ovaries and has spread into the abdomen. It may have also spread into the lymph nodes.
  • Stage IV – Tumor has spread to organs outside the abdominal cavity, such as the liver or lungs.

Learn more about Clearity’s Tumor Blueprint.