An Overview

Understanding the disease

Ovaries are small, almond-shaped organs located on either side of the uterus and store eggs – known as germ cells – and produce estrogen and progesterone, two female hormones. Ovarian cancer is when malignant (cancerous) cells develop in, near, or on the outer layer of one or both ovaries. 

There are many types of ovarian cancer. Normally, healthy cells in your body divide and form new cells to repair injuries and replace old or dying cells. Cancer cells are different because they:

  • Grow uncontrollably, dividing into new abnormal cells
  • Outlive normal cells
  • Lead to the growth of a tumor; this can put pressure on nearby organs 
  • Can spread, or metastasize to other parts of the body through the bloodstream or lymphatic system

The type of cancer is determined by the site where it started. So, when cancer cells are first formed in the ovaries and spread to other organs, it will be diagnosed and treated as ovarian cancer. 

General Prognosis

Due to the nature of ovarian cancer, every woman’s ovarian cancer is different. This makes it impossible to provide a general prognosis – the chance of recovery or survival.  Your outcome will depend on many factors, such as the stage and type of ovarian cancer, your age and overall health.

Statistics from the American Cancer Society show:

  • In 2021, it is estimated that 21,410 cases of ovarian cancer will be diagnosed 
  • Of those diagnosed, 13,770 women are expected to die
  • The risk of a woman getting ovarian cancer is about 1 in 78 in her lifetime
  • Ovarian cancer ranks fifth in cancer deaths among women and causes more deaths than any other gynecological cancer 
  • The five-year survival rate is over 90% when ovarian cancer is diagnosed and treated in its earliest stages 
  • Only 20% of all cases are found early, meaning in stage I or II; if the cancer is caught in stage III or higher, the survival rate can be as low as 28%

Related Topics

Diagnosis

Get information about the tests that are available for making a diagnosis when ovarian cancer is suspected. 

Who's at risk?

Understand the risk factors of ovarian cancer and learn what to do if you or someone you love are at an increased risk.

Signs and symptoms

Knowing what to look for is important, especially if you’re at increased risk; the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer are often vague or mimic other ailments.  

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