Ovarian Cancer 101

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Jan Tichenor, nurse navigator specializing in gynecologic cancers at Medical City Dallas Hospital, a Sarah Cannon partner.

About one in 75 women are estimated to be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in their lifetime, yet ovarian cancer is the fifth-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in women. The American Cancer Society estimates that there will be over 22,280 women between ages 35 and 74 diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2016, and that more than 14,240 women will die from ovarian cancer this year.

The Basics

Ovaries are reproductive glands that produce eggs. Ovaries are also the source of estrogen and progesterone, both female hormones. A woman has two ovaries, one on each side of the uterus in the pelvis. When cancer starts in the ovaries, it is called ovarian cancer.

Risk Factors

Some women can be at a higher risk for developing ovarian cancer, including those with a personal or family history of breast, ovarian or colon cancer. Genetic abnormalities such as BRCA1 or BRCA2 increase a woman’s risk for developing both ovarian cancer, as well as breast cancer.

The risk of ovarian cancer increases with age. Other risk factors include infertility, endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease and Lynch syndrome. Most women who develop ovarian cancer are not considered high risk for the cancer and do not have a family history of it.

If you think that you may be at a high risk for ovarian cancer, you should speak with your doctor about monitoring and screening recommendations.


When localized to the ovary, the five-year survival rate for ovarian cancer is 90 percent, but only one in five women with ovarian cancer are diagnosed in an early stage.

The two tests used most often to screen for ovarian cancer in high-risk women are transvaginal ultrasounds (TVUS), a test that uses sound waves to look at a woman’s pelvic area, and the CA-125 blood test, which tests for the CA-125 protein in the blood (women with ovarian cancer sometimes have high levels of this protein). It is important to remember, a Pap test does not detect ovarian cancer, only cervical cancer.

If you are suspected of having ovarian cancer, you will likely have:

  • Physical and pelvic exam
  • Imaging tests, including CT scan, ultrasound
  • Consultation with a specialist (gynecologic oncologist)

A biopsy of your tumor or abdominal fluid (ascites) will confirm an ovarian cancer diagnosis.

“Unfortunately, ovarian cancer is hard to discover early because the symptoms are often subtle and similar to many other conditions affecting women who do not have cancer,” said Jan Tichenor, nurse navigator specializing in gynecologic cancers at Medical City Dallas Hospital, a Sarah Cannon partner. “The prognosis for survival from ovarian cancer depends largely on how advanced the disease is at the time of diagnosis. Early detection is key – it is important for all women to pay attention to their bodies.”

Common symptoms for ovarian cancer:

  • Bloating
  • Pelvic pain
  • Trouble eating or feeling full quickly
  • Feeling need to urinate often

Other symptoms can include fatigue, upset stomach or heartburn, back pain, pain during sex, constipation or menstrual changes.

If these symptoms are new and persist daily for more than 2 weeks, you should see your doctor.

“Persistence of symptoms is key – be your own advocate and don’t ignore these signs with the thought they will go away on their own,” continued Jan. “If cancer is suspected, it is important for you to consult with a gynecologic oncologist, as this type of specialist will work with you to create the best treatment plan which may involve surgery and/or chemotherapy.”

For questions about ovarian cancer, you can call the Sarah Cannon 24/7 askSARAH line to speak to a nurse at (844) 482-4812.


American Cancer Society

National Ovarian Cancer Coalition

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