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What is Ovarian Cancer?

Cancer occurs when cells in the body begin changing and multiplying out of control. These cells can form lumps of tissue called tumors. Cancer that starts in the ovaries is called ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer can spread from the ovaries to other parts of the body. This spread is called metastasis. The more cancer spreads, the harder it is to treat.

Outline of female pelvis showing uterus, cervix, and vagina.

Understanding the Ovaries

The ovaries are a pair of walnut-sized organs in a woman's pelvic area. They are located on either side of the uterus (the organ that holds the baby when a woman is pregnant). Ovaries make and release the eggs which, when combined with a man's sperm, can grow into a baby. The ovaries also make the female hormones progesterone and estrogen.

When Ovarian Cancer Forms

There are three different types of ovarian tumors.

  • Epithelial tumors form in the cells that cover the outer surface of the ovaries. This is the most common type of ovarian cancer.

  • Germ cell tumors form in the cells inside the ovary that produce eggs. These rare tumors are most common in women in their teens and early twenties.

  • Stromal tumors grow from the cells that make female hormones. This is one of the least common forms of ovarian cancer.

Treatment Options for Ovarian Cancer

You and your healthcare provider will discuss a treatment plan that's best for your needs. Treatment options may include:

  • Surgery to remove the ovaries and surrounding tissue and organs.

  • Chemotherapy, which uses strong medications to kill cancer cells. This treatment is often used along with surgery.

  • Radiation therapy, which uses directed rays of energy to kill cancer cells.

Online Medical Reviewer: de la Cruz, Marlene, RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Held - Warmkessell, Jeanne, MSN, RN, AOCN(R), ACNS-BC
Last Review Date: 1/31/2012
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