About Ovarian Cancer

  • Cancer of the ovaries is an insidious disease that can often strike without warning. It is the leading cause of death from gynecologic cancers in the US and is the fifth leading cause of cancer death among American women
  • Ovarian cancer is difficult to detect with often vague and subtle symptoms
  • There is no effective screening test for ovarian cancer but tests exist that can identify women who are at higher risk

  • When ovarian cancer is detected and treated early, the five-year survival rate is greater than 92 percent
  • Most women, however, are diagnosed at advanced stages, and less than 50 percent of women survive longer than five years after diagnosis
  • Thanks to awareness and research in the last 30 years, the five-year survival rate has improved by 30 to 40%


Ovarian cancer is difficult to detect, as the symptoms are often vague and subtle. If any of these symptoms is new or unusual, occur almost daily, and persist for more than a few weeks, it is recommended you speak with your doctor, preferably a gynecologist.

Ovarian cancer may cause one or more of these signs and symptoms:

  • Vaginal bleeding or discharge from your vagina that is not normal for you
  • Pain in the pelvic or abdominal area (the area below your stomach and between your hip bones)
  • Back pain
  • Bloating, which is when the area below your stomach swells or feels full
  • Feeling full quickly while eating
  • A change in your bathroom habits, such as having to pass urine very badly or very often, constipation, or diarrhea


There is no effective screening test for ovarian cancer but there are tests that can identify women who are at higher risk. If a gynecologist has a suspicion that a woman has ovarian cancer, the doctor will order a series of tests. A definitive diagnosis of ovarian cancer usually occurs after surgery. Research shows that women treated by gynecologic oncologists live longer than those treated by other physicians. The most common preliminary tests are:

  • Physical exam
  • Recto-vaginal pelvic examination (also called a bimanual exam)
  • Transvaginal ultrasound
  • Blood tests
  • OVA1 test
  • CT scan or computerized tomography
  • The need for a biopsy
  • Surgery


If you are at high risk for ovarian cancer because of personal or family history, your doctor may ask you to have more tests, including some that give information about your genes. These tests may help you make important decisions about cancer prevention for yourself and your children. There are benefits and risks with genetic testing, which you should discuss with your doctor. Blood tests can find out if you have a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene, which can cause ovarian cancer as well as breast cancer.