Ovarian Cancer

the silent killer

Hannah Parrott

Definition of Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer is cancer that begins or occurs in the ovaries, the organ in which a woman's eggs are stored. Cancer occurs when cells reproduce uncontrollably within the ovaries and form a tumor.

Ovarian Cancer Video

This short video gives a general overview of Ovarian cancer, and is a useful way to visualize it.
Ovarian Cancer

Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer has very few obvious symptoms in its earlier stages, making it extremely difficult to diagnose early.

People experiencing ovarian cancer may experience:

  • Unusual periods or discharge
  • Pain in the back, pelvis, abdominal region
  • Weight loss/gain

& other similar symptoms

But these symptoms are common with many other diseases, so they aren't usually recognized as ovarian cancer.

Prevalence of Ovarian Cancer

Only about 20,000 cases of ovarian cancer are diagnosed each year in the US, but approximately three-fourths of that number will die within 5 years. Ovarian cancer has the highest death rate of all reproductive cancers because it's so hard to diagnose.


It's hard to diagnose ovarian cancer until its in later stages and has moved past the ovaries to other parts of the abdomen or far away organs like the lungs or the liver because of its few, inconspicuous symptoms and because there is currently no way to screen it. Early diagnosis of ovarian cancer (when the cancer is only in one ovary) has 90% five year survival rate, but the survival rate when the cancer is diagnosed in later stages is much lower.

Once the cancer is suspected, you can find it with several tests, including:

-manual exams

-ultrasounds and other types of imaging

-CA-125 assay (a blood test looking for bio markers that indicate the cancer)

Usually multiple tests are used together to diagnose ovarian cancer.

Big image

trying to diagnose ovarian cancer earlier

A study published this month found that based off preliminary results, researchers appear to have found two options in screening for ovarian cancer. When women who had an average risk of developing ovarian cancer were tested with an ultrasound or CA125 tracking (a biomarker)- two possible ways of screening for the disease- they had a lower morality rate due to the cancer than a control group. They were able to detect it earlier, and treat it.

NPR Ovarian Cancer Clip

listen to clip from 0:25 to 4:35. It illustrates how difficult it is to diagnose ovarian cancer until it's in its later stages, the main reason why the morality rate for ovarian cancer is so high.


There don't appear to be any definitive causes of ovarian cancer, but there are several things that increase your likelihood of getting it, including:

  • having certain genetic mutations (particularly in the BRCA gene) or being descended from certain ethnic groups
  • not having children or having trouble becoming pregnant
  • being older

At the Molecular and cellular level...

Ovarian cancer is caused by uncontrolled cell growth due to random changes and mutations in the DNA. As people age, they have more opportunities to be exposed to hormones and other environmental influences that might spark more of these changes.

Most ovarian cancer occurs in ovarian epithelial cells, particularly ones lining the ovary, but some ovarian cancer also occurs in stromal and germ cells within the ovary.

Treatments and cures

Ovarian cancer is best treated in its earlier stages, when the cancer is confined to just one ovary or two, rather than in the entire abdomen or other parts of the body, like the lungs or brain. To treat ovarian cancer, doctors might:

  • remove the cancerous tissue in surgery (an entire ovary or two, often with the fallopian tubes and uterus as well)
  • use chemotherapy to kill cancer cells that have moved out of the ovaries
  • use radiation from x-rays to target specific areas of cancer cells
  • target certain genes to stop the cancer- for example a the genes of blood vessels delivering blood to a tumor
  • use hormone therapy by releasing hormones that block or change the body's response to something

When Chemotherapy doesn't work....

Research in gene therapy in the treatment of ovarian cancer found that using a protein that suppresses the creation of female organs in male embryos may be an effective treatment for tumors that survive chemotherapy. Researchers found that tumors responded 60% of the time to this form of gene therapy, giving hope to those for whom chemotherapy isn't enough.