Get the Facts on Ovarian Cancer

In 2012, it is estimated that more than 22,000 new cases of ovarian cancer will be found, and over 15,000 women will die from the disease, according to the National Cancer Institute. Unfortunately, in many cases the cancer isn’t detected until it is advanced. It’s important to recognize the symptoms and urge the women in your life to take early action.

Ovarian cancer is a disease in which cancerous cells are found in the ovaries – the two small, almond-shaped organs that store eggs and produce female hormones. Let’s take a look at some basics about the disease:

  • All women are at risk for developing ovarian cancer.
  • A regular Pap smear cannot detect ovarian cancer.
  • 50 percent of cases occur in women over 65 years old.

In the early stages, ovarian cancer may not cause any noticeable symptoms, or the signs may be vague. However, symptoms do exist and can increase over time. If detected early, the five-year survival rate is 93 percent (for cancer confined to the ovary). The most common signs include:

  • Pain or swelling in the abdomen
  • Frequent or increased urination
  • Indigestion (bloating, gas, constipation)
  • Feeling full quickly
  • Pelvic, back, or abdominal pain
  • Menstrual changes

While there is no proven screening method for early-stage ovarian cancer and detection is difficult, certain risk factors can increase a woman’s chance of developing the disease:

  • Having a known BRCA-1 or BRCA-2 mutation
  • Having a family history of breast, ovarian, or colorectal cancer
  • Never having been pregnant
  • Problems with fertility
  • Taking hormone replacement therapy after menopause

If reproductive cancers run in your family or you have health concerns, be sure to consult your physician.

Share this with the women in your life and help us raise awareness about ovarian cancer.

To promote education and awareness this month and throughout the year, Dana-Farber is collaborating with the Massachusetts Coalition, which includes Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center, the M. Patricia Cronin Foundation to Fight Ovarian Cancer, and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

Read a first-person story from Margaret Winchester, an ovarian cancer patient at Dana-Farber.