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What Is Ovarian Cancer?

Ovarian cancer causes more deaths per year than any other cancer of the female reproductive system.


Women over the age of 65 are most likely to develop ovarian cancer though it does occur among younger women and even among children.

How many

Ovarian cancer will be detected in approximately 21,500 women and cause about 14,600 deaths in the United States in 2009.


There are often no obvious signs or symptoms until the cancer has spread. Vague digestive disturbances may signal the presence of ovarian cancer. Because this cancer is so stealthy it is known as a silent killer.

Risk factors

Risk for ovarian cancer increases with age. Women who have never had children are more likely to develop ovarian cancer as those who have. If a woman has had breast cancer, her chances of developing ovarian cancer double. In some families there is a genetic predisposition to an increased incidence of ovarian cancer.


A screening exam that can detect ovarian cancer in women who do not have symptoms is not currently available. The Pap test, so effective in detecting cervical cancer, only rarely uncovers ovarian cancer. A study is underway to determine the effectiveness of using a screening program that evaluates a woman's age in conjunction with results from a CA125 blood test.  So far it appears quite effective and may, sometime in the future, become a routine form of screening for post-menopausal women.


The main treatments for ovarian cancer are surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy.


If diagnosed and treated early, the survival rate is 94 percent for five years; however, only about 20 percent of all cases are detected at the localized stage.

Hope for the future

The real hope for the future lies in earlier detection. Cancer specialists worldwide are also working to develop new, more effective treatments and to improve the ways current treatments are administered.