What is ovarian cancer?
Cancer of the ovaries, the reproductive organs responsible for producing eggs and female hormones, is an insidious disease that can often strike without warning. Ovarian cancer is difficult to detect, as the symptoms of ovarian cancer are often vague and subtle, similar to those in other non cancer conditions affecting women. There is no effective screening test for ovarian cancer but tests exist that can identify women who are at higher risk for the disease.
Only 20 percent of cases are caught before the cancer has spread beyond the ovary to the pelvic region. When ovarian cancer is detected and treated early on, the five-year survival rate is greater than 92 percent. Sadly, though, most patients are diagnosed at advanced stages, and less than 50 percent of women survive longer than five years after diagnosis. The good news is that today 50 percent of women are surviving longer than five years after diagnosis–a marked improvement in the survival rate from 30 or more years ago when it was 10 percent to 20 percent.
Factors that may increase the risk of ovarian cancer:
- Family history of cancer: Women with a grandmother, mother, daughter or sister with ovarian cancer are at higher risk for the disease. Women with a family history of cancer of the breast, uterus, colon or rectum may also have an increased risk of the disease.
- Strong family history of cancer of the ovary or breast
- Personal history of cancer or endometriosis
- Age over 55: Most women are over age 55 when diagnosed with ovarian cancer
- No pregnancies: Older women who have never been pregnant are at increased risk
- Menopausal hormone therapy:
Factors that may decrease the risk of ovarian cancer:
- Oral contraceptive use: Use of oral contraceptives for 5 or more years can reduce risk by approximately 50 percent or more.
- Pregnancy: Multiple pregnancies or having first full-term pregnancy before the age of 25 decreases risk.
- Breast feeding reduces the risk of ovarian cancer.
- Hysterectomy/Tubal Ligation: Having a hysterectomy, or removal of the uterus while leaving the ovaries, may decrease the risk of ovarian cancer by 33 percent, according to the American Cancer Society. Having fallopian tubes tied (tubal ligation) may reduce risk by up to 67 percent, the American Cancer Society says, though researchers aren’t sure why this is the case.
- Removal of the ovaries and fallopian tubes, or salpingo-oophorectomy, dramatically reduces the risk of ovarian cancer. Primary peritoneal cancer, which is microscopically almost identical to ovarian cancer, can still occur, but is infrequent.
For more information go to:
Ovarian Cancer Research Fund Fact Sheet Download Here
Inside Knowledge campaign’s ovarian cancer fact sheet [PDF-859KB]