Basic Information About Ovarian Cancer

Diagram of the female reproductive system showing the fallopian tubes, ovaries, uterus, cervix, vagina, and vulva

This diagram shows different parts of a woman’s reproductive system.

© 2021 Terese Winslow LLC. U.S. Govt. has certain rights. Used with permission. Contact artist at for licensing.

Cancer is a disease in which abnormal cells in the body grow out of control. Cancer is usually named for the part of the body where it starts, even if it spreads to other body parts later.

Ovarian cancer is a group of diseases that originates in the ovaries, or in the related areas of the fallopian tubes and the peritoneum. Women have two ovaries that are located in the pelvis, one on each side of the uterus. The ovaries make female hormones and produce eggs for reproduction. Women have two fallopian tubes that are a pair of long, slender tubes on each side of the uterus. Eggs pass from the ovaries through the fallopian tubes to the uterus. The peritoneum is the tissue lining that covers organs in the abdomen.

When ovarian cancer is found in its early stages, treatment works best. Ovarian cancer often causes signs and symptoms, so it is important to pay attention to your body and know what is normal for you. Symptoms may be caused by something other than cancer, but the only way to know is to see your doctor, nurse, or other health care professional.

Some mutations (changes in genes) can raise your risk for ovarian cancer. Mutations in the breast cancer susceptibility genes 1 and 2 (BRCA1 and BRCA2), and those associated with Lynch syndrome, are the most common mutations that raise ovarian cancer risk.

Ovarian cancers come in a variety of different tumor types and subtypes. The most common tumor type is adenocarcinoma, and the most common subtype is serous adenocarcinoma. Most serous adenocarcinomas are high-grade (aggressively growing) tumors.

Photo of four women

Most women who get ovarian cancer are not at high risk, but several factors may increase a woman’s risk.

Photo of a woman

There is no known way to prevent ovarian cancer, but some things are associated with a lower chance of getting it.

Photo of a woman with back pain

Ovarian cancer may cause several signs and symptoms.

Photo of a woman talking to her doctor

Since there is no simple and reliable way to screen for ovarian cancer, it is especially important to recognize warning signs and learn what you can do to reduce your risk.

Photo of a woman receiving chemotherapy

Treatment for ovarian cancer usually involves a combination of surgery and chemotherapy.