Thumbnail image of: Female Pelvis: Illustration

Cancer of the Ovary

What is cancer of the ovary?

The ovaries are located on either side of the uterus (womb) in a woman’s pelvis (lower part of the abdomen). They are part of the reproductive system and are about the size and shape of an almond. They are the main source of the female hormones estrogen and progesterone and, before menopause, they produce the eggs that become babies when fertilized.

Cancer of the ovary (ovarian cancer) is an abnormal growth of cells that form tumors in the ovary. If the cancer has spread to other areas of the body, it is still ovarian cancer, and is called metastatic cancer.

There are different types and stages of ovarian cancer based on what kind of cancer cells are found, where the tumor started and where it has spread. Knowing your type and stage of ovarian cancer helps your healthcare provider decide on the best treatment plan for you. It is important to diagnose and treat ovarian cancer as soon as possible. The main goals of treatment are to kill the tumor cells, prevent a localized cancer from spreading, and prevent metastatic cancer from spreading more than it already has.

The sooner ovarian cancer is discovered and treated, the better the chances are for recovery. However, ovarian cancer is very hard to detect in its early stages because there are often no obvious symptoms. Currently, there are no screening tests to either predict the development of or detect ovarian cancer.

The cause of ovarian cancer is not known. Most ovarian cancer occurs in women over age 50. You may have an increased risk of ovarian cancer if:

  • Your mother, sister, or daughter had ovarian cancer
  • You or members of your family have had breast or colon cancer
  • You have never given birth to a child

What can I expect in the hospital?

Several things may be done while you are in the hospital to monitor, test, and treat your condition. They include:


  • You will be checked often by the hospital staff.
  • Your heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature will be checked regularly.
  • Your blood oxygen level may be monitored by a sensor that is attached to your finger or earlobe.


Tests to check for cancer or if cancer has spread to other parts of your body may include:

  • Pelvic exam: A test in which your provider will gently put a speculum into the vagina to hold the vaginal walls open. A speculum is a thin, lubricated plastic or metal instrument shaped like the bill of a duck. It opens the vagina just enough to allow your provider to look at the surface of the cervix and check for irritation, infection, or growths. Your provider will then remove the speculum and put 1 or 2 lubricated, gloved fingers in your vagina and press on your abdomen with the other hand, to feel and check the size and shape of the uterus and ovaries.
  • Ultrasound scan: Sound waves and their echoes passed through the body from a small device (called a transducer) that is held against your skin to create pictures of the inside of the pelvis and ovaries
  • Computed tomography (CT) Scan: A series of X-rays taken from different angles and arranged by a computer to show thin sections of the ovaries and other areas where the cancer may have spread
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): A powerful magnetic field and radio waves are used to take pictures from different angles to show thin sections of the ovaries and other areas where the cancer may have spread
  • Blood tests to check for certain hormones, proteins, or chemicals that may be high if you have cancer
  • X-rays: Pictures of your bones and the inside of your chest to check for cancer
  • Laparoscopy: A surgical procedure in which a small cut is made near your bellybutton (navel) and your healthcare provider inserts a lighted tube with a camera through the cut and into your abdomen to look at your ovaries and other nearby organs
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan: A series of detailed pictures that are taken after your healthcare provider injects a small amount of radioactive material into your blood. The scan shows areas where the radioactive material is being absorbed.


The treatment for ovarian cancer depends on the type and stage of the cancer. Treatment may include:

  • You will have a small tube (IV catheter) inserted into a vein in your hand or arm. This will allow for medicine to be given directly into your blood and to give you fluids, if needed.
  • You may need surgery to treat the cancer. Surgery may include:
    • Oophorectomy: Surgery to remove one or both ovaries
    • Hysterectomy: Surgery to remove the cervix and uterus. Tissue on the sides of the cervix may also be removed. The fallopian tubes and ovaries are also removed.
    • Lymph node dissection: Surgery to remove lymph nodes in the pelvic area (below the belly and between the hips) to check if the cancer has spread. It also allows the pathologist to determine the stage of the cancer accurately. This will allow your healthcare providers to determine if you need more treatment after you recover from surgery.
  • Other treatments may include:
    • Chemotherapy (anticancer drugs), which uses medicine to kill cancer cells.
    • Radiation therapy, which uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells.
  • Your provider may prescribe medicine or other therapy to:
    • Treat pain
    • Treat or prevent an infection
    • Treat or prevent side effects, such as nausea or constipation, from other treatments
    • Treat or prevent low blood counts caused by the cancer or its treatment
    • Help your immune system fight cancer

What can I do to help?

  • You will need to tell your healthcare team if you have new or worsening:
    • Shortness of breath
    • Dizziness or lightheadedness
    • Abdominal pain
    • Change in bowel habits, such as pain, mucus, diarrhea, constipation, or other intestinal problems
    • Heavy vaginal bleeding (soaking a pad more than once an hour)
    • Trouble emptying your bladder
    • Vaginal discharge with a bad odor or itching
    • Redness, swelling, pain, warmth, or drainage from your surgical wound
    • Fever, chills, or muscle aches
  • Ask questions about any medicine or treatment or information that you do not understand.

How long will I be in the hospital?

How long you stay in the hospital depends on many factors. The average amount of time to stay in the hospital with ovarian cancer is 5 to 7 days.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Acute Care Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2015-02-03
Last reviewed: 2014-11-21
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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