Frequently Asked Questions About Ovarian Cancer

At the Henry Ford Cancer Institute, we provide compassionate, expert care. We’ll guide you and your family through the process, including diagnosis, treatment and follow-up care as a survivor.

Our team of surgeons, gynecologic oncologists, obstetricians, gynecologists, radiation and medical oncologists and nurses will make sure you have all the information and support you need. However, at any point during your journey of care, you may have some questions – some of which come up more frequently than others, so we’ve compiled a list of frequently asked questions and answers to get you started.

  • Ovarian Cancer Basics

    Who is most likely to get ovarian cancer?

    The exact cause of ovarian cancer is not known. Ovarian cancer can occur at any time in adult women, but often is found in postmenopausal women.

    We do know that family history is important. Women whose mothers, sisters, or other close relatives have had ovarian or breast cancer may be at a higher risk for developing the disease.

    Other factors that may increase your risk include:

    • Being 50 to 75 years old
    • Being Caucasian (white)
    • Giving birth after the age of 35
    • Never giving birth
    • Having a family history, including ovarian cancer, breast cancer, endometrial cancer, or colon cancer

    Having a family history, including ovarian cancer, breast cancer, endometrial cancer, or colon cancer

    Manage your risk for ovarian cancer with regular pelvic exams.

    Although regular exams don’t change your risk for ovarian cancer, they may help with early diagnosis. Discuss your family history with your doctor, who may recommend that certain tests be performed regularly. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends an annual pelvic exam.

    Are ovarian cancer and breast cancer related?

    If you, or someone in your family, has had breast cancer, you may be at a higher risk for developing ovarian cancer. The two cancers share similar risk factors; both can be hereditary and are caused by inherited changes in genes such as BRCA1 and BRCA2.

    What are the chances of surviving ovarian cancer?

    For all types of ovarian cancer, the 5-year relative survival rate is 47 percent. However, different factors, such as stage and type of ovarian cancer, age when diagnosed and overall health play a large role in cancer survival and aren’t always accurately represented through survival rate figures.

    Can ovarian cancer spread?

    Ovarian cancer can spread and, depending on where it spreads to, it can determine the stage of the ovarian cancer.

    • Stage 1 – Cancer has not spread beyond the ovaries
    • Stage 2 – Cancer is in one or both of the ovaries and has spread elsewhere within the pelvis
    • Stage 3 – Cancer is in one or both of the ovaries and has spread to the lining or lymph nodes of the abdomen
    • Stage 4 – Cancer has spread to distant areas or organs in the body

    Staging can also indicate how aggressive your cancer is, which is factored in to the formulation of your treatment plan.

  • Ovarian Cancer Symptoms and Diagnosis

    What are symptoms of ovarian cancer?

    Ovarian cancer symptoms can range from not noticeable to quite painful. They often occur in later stages of the disease and are easily mistaken for gastrointestinal issues or other gynecological conditions.

    Symptoms may include:

    • Backache
    • Bloating
    • Changes in bowel habits
    • Feeling continually full
    • Lower abdominal pain
    • Weight changes

    If you have any of these symptoms, schedule a visit to the doctor.

    Ovarian cancer is easiest to treat when it is detected and diagnosed at an early stage. [

    Can ovarian cancer affect menstruation?

    Some ovarian tumors can cause abnormal vaginal bleeding or missed periods. However, most ovarian tumors are not cancerous and, most of the time, missed periods are not indicative of ovarian cancer nor are they the most common symptom of ovarian cancer. While irregular periods are rarely a sign of something serious, they may increase your risk of ovarian cancer. Some research has indicated that women with a history of menstrual irregularities are twice as likely to develop ovarian cancer.

    Will ovarian cancer be detected in a Pap test?

    A Pap test can detect cervical cancer, as well as any changes in your cervical cells that may make you more likely to develop cervical cancer, but it cannot detect ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer cells could only be detected via a Pap test in extremely rare circumstances and, unfortunately, there is no standard screening test for ovarian cancer.

  • Ovarian Cancer Treatment

    How is ovarian cancer treated?

    Before treatment begins, we will assess the stage of your cancer. This helps the doctor determine the most effective course of treatment for you.

    Often surgery is the most important initial step in treating ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer surgery is complex. Along with the ovaries and fallopian tubes, the doctor may need to remove lymph nodes in the spleen, the bowel diaphragm, and binding tissues in the abdomen. We use special technologies to vaporize the tumor and remove any that we find during surgery.

    Chemotherapy often is used before or after surgery. Treatment also may include radiation therapy. Depending on your condition, the doctor may recommend intraperitoneal chemotherapy. We’ll administer chemotherapy directly into the abdomen to bathe the cancer cells in the drug, which can increase its effectiveness.

    Your doctor will discuss these options with you and help you decide which ovarian cancer treatment or treatments will work best for your type and stage of cancer. We’ll provide you with the education and support you need to enter treatment and recovery with confidence.

    How often does ovarian cancer return?

    On average, around 70 percent of patients diagnosed with ovarian cancer experience recurrence – when the ovarian cancer returns, sometimes to the same place as the original tumor or possibly another place in the body. The chances of recurrence are often the result of several factors, including what stage the cancer was in during the first diagnosis – the higher the stage, the higher the likelihood of recurrence.

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