Each year, an estimated 25,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer, the fifth leading cause of cancer death—resulting in more than 15,000 deaths in 2008 alone. Although it generally strikes women 60 and older, 10 percent of cases occur in women under 40. Protect yourself now.
What it is
The ovaries, located in the pelvis, are part of a woman's reproductive system. Each ovary is about the size of an almond. The ovaries produce the female hormones estrogen and progesterone. They also release eggs. An egg travels from an ovary through a fallopian tube to the womb (uterus). When a woman goes through menopause, her ovaries stop releasing eggs and make far lower levels of hormones.
Most ovarian cancers are either ovarian epithelial carcinomas (cancer that begins in the cells on the surface of the ovary) or malignant germ cell tumors (cancer that begins in egg cells).
Ovarian cancer can invade, shed, or spread to other organs:
- A malignant ovarian tumor can grow and invade organs next to the ovaries, such as the fallopian tubes and uterus.
- Cancer cells can shed (break off) from the main ovarian tumor. Shedding into the abdomen may lead to new tumors forming on the surface of nearby organs and tissues. The doctor may call these seeds or implants.
- Cancer cells can spread through the lymphatic system to lymph nodes in the pelvis, abdomen, and chest. Cancer cells may also spread through the bloodstream to organs such as the liver and lungs.