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Ovarian Cancer

Q: What is ovarian cancer?

Dr. Donnica:
Ovarian cancer is the most serious cancer affecting women's reproductive organs.  Ovarian cancer ranks fifth as a cause of cancer deaths among women, and causes more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system.  The Society of Gynecologic Oncologists estimates that there will be 23,400 new cases of ovarian cancer diagnosed and approximately 14,000 deaths from ovarian cancer in the United States during 2001.

Ovarian cancer usually appears on the surface of the ovary and is accompanied by vague symptoms such as a pressure or fullness in the lower abdomen or pelvic area, abdominal bloating, or changes in bowel and bladder patterns.  These changes are usually constant and progressive.

The risk of ovarian cancer increases with age, especially after menopause.  A family history of ovarian cancer is one of the most important risk factors.  Infertility and not having given birth are also risk factors.  Having had a genetic form of breast cancer also increases ones risk for ovarian cancer.  Interestingly, the risk of ovarian cancer decreases with each additional pregnancy a woman has and is also significantly reduced (by 40%--60%) in women who took birth control pills for at least 5 years.

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Created: 3/9/2001  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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