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Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine

Fact sheet

What are the ovaries?
What is ovarian cancer?
How common is ovarian cancer?
Who is at risk for ovarian cancer?
How do you lower your risk of ovarian cancer?
What are the screening tests for ovarian cancer?
What are the symptoms of ovarian cancer?
Where can I get more information?

What are the ovaries?
The ovaries are part of the female reproductive system.  Most women have 2 ovaries, one on each side of the uterus (womb). Each ovary is about the size and shape of an almond. The ovaries produce eggs and the female reproductive hormones, estrogen and progesterone.

What is ovarian cancer?
Ovarian cancer occurs when the cells in the ovaries grow out of control. A group of abnormal cells together can form a malignant (cancerous) tumor.

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How common is ovarian cancer?
Over 20,000 American women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year. To compare this with other cancers, click here.

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Who is at risk of getting ovarian cancer?
Any woman can get ovarian cancer, but it usually strikes women over age 50. Risk increases with age, and women with a family history of ovarian cancer have a higher risk.

Though women who’ve had an oophorectomy (removal of the ovaries) have a decreased risk of ovarian cancer, they still have some risk of the disease.

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How do you lower your risk of ovarian cancer?
If you are under age 50, consider taking birth control pills. Talk with your doctor about the risks and benefits.

Other surgeries like closing the fallopian tubes (having the “tubes tied”) and having a hysterectomy (removing the uterus or “womb”) also lower risk. Most women have these surgeries for other medical reasons.

Click here for a list of things that affect ovarian cancer.

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What is the screening test?
There is no good screening test to find ovarian cancer in its early stages. If you're concerned about ovarian cancer, talk to a doctor about your risk. If your risk is high, a doctor may want you to get certain special tests.

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What are the symptoms of ovarian cancer?
Ovarian cancer often has mild or no symptoms in the early stages. But as the cancer grows, symptoms may include:
  • Pain or bloating in the lower part of the stomach
  • A lump in the stomach
  • A loss of appetite
  • Indigestion
  • Nausea
  • Weight loss
These symptoms also may be caused by other problems. Only a doctor can know for sure. If you have any of these symptoms, see a doctor immediately.

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For more information on ovarian cancer, visit these web sites: Back to top