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  • Susan F. Smith Center for Women's Cancers logo spacer Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Care

    Ovarian Cancer

    About Ovarian Cancer

    What is ovarian cancer?

    The ovaries are a pair of organs in the female reproductive system. They are located in the pelvis, one on each side of the uterus (the hollow, pear-shaped organ where a fetus grows). Each ovary is about the size and shape of an almond and becomes smaller through atrophy after menopause occurs. The ovaries produce eggs and female hormones (chemicals that control the way certain cells or organs function).

    Ovarian cancer forms in the tissues of the ovary or the fallopian tube. Most ovarian cancers are either ovarian epithelial carcinomas that begin in the cells from the fallopian tube or from the surface of the ovary. Cancers that arise from the peritoneal surface, called "peritoneal cancers," are treated identically to ovarian cancer and fallopian tube cancer. Malignant germ cell tumors that are much more rare begin in egg cells. Early-stage ovarian cancer can often be cured.

    anatomy of the female reproductive systemAnatomy of the female reproductive system. The organs in the female reproductive system include the uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes, cervix, and vagina. The uterus has a muscular outer layer called the myometrium and an inner lining called the endometrium. 

    Risk factors

    Risk factors for ovarian cancer can include:

    • A family history of ovarian cancer: genetic risk may be transmitted between generations, either through maternal or paternal genetic inheritance. Known gene mutations that confer increased risk of ovarian cancer and other cancers include BRCA gene mutations, Lynch syndrome, and other gene mutations that are less common.
    • Hormone replacement therapy
    • Fertility drugs
    • Obesity
    • Late onset of menopause
    • Infertility
    • Nulliparity, or a woman who has had no children

    Signs and symptoms

    The signs and symptoms for ovarian cancer can include:

    • Pain or swelling in the abdomen
    • Gastrointestinal problems, such as gas, bloating, diarrhea, and/or constipation
    • Abdominal or pelvic pain
    • Shortness of breath


    • Pelvic exam
    • Ultrasound exam, abdominal or transvaginal; transvaginal ultrasound is able to see the ovaries much better than an abdominal ultrasound
    • CA-125 assay blood test
    • Biopsy
    • CT (CAT) scan

    Learn details about how we diagnose ovarian cancer.


    Treatment options include:

    • Surgery
    • Chemotherapy
    • Radiation therapy (for rare cases)

    Learn details about how we treat ovarian cancer.

    Factors affecting treatment options and recovery

    Your prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options depend on the following:

    • The stage of your cancer and how well your cancer can be operated on by a gynecologic oncology surgeon
    • The subtype of ovarian cancer and the size of the tumor
    • Your age and general health
    • Whether the cancer has just been diagnosed or has come back (recurred)

    Next: How We Diagnose Ovarian Cancer 

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