Ovarian Cancer (Epithelial)

Ovarian cancer is cancer that forms in tissues of the ovary (one of a pair of female reproductive glands in which the ova, or eggs, are formed). Most ovarian cancers are either ovarian epithelial carcinomas (cancer that begins in the cells on the surface of the ovary) or malignant germ cell tumors (cancer that begins in egg cells).

A Rare Disease with Few Symptoms

Charles Landen, MD, and Susan Modesitt, MD, discuss the ovarian cancer treatments and experience offered at UVA. View ovarian cancer transcript.


Factors that increase your chance for ovarian cancer include:

  • Family history of ovarian cancer, especially in mother, sister or daughter
  • Age: 50 or older
  • Menstrual history: first period before age 12, no childbirth or first childbirth after age 30, and late menopause
  • Personal history of breast cancer or endometrial cancer
    ovarian tumor illustration
    Cancerous Mass in the Left Ovary Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.
  • Certain gene mutations, including BRCA1, BRCA2


Early ovarian cancer may not cause any symptoms. When symptoms do appear, ovarian cancer is often advanced. Symptoms of ovarian cancer may include the following:

  • Pain or swelling in the abdomen
  • Pain in the pelvis
  • Gastrointestinal problems, such as gas, bloating, or constipation

These symptoms also may be caused by other conditions and not by ovarian cancer. If the symptoms get worse or do not go away on their own, check with your doctor so that any problem can be diagnosed and treated as early as possible. When found in its early stages, ovarian epithelial cancer can often be cured.


Tests may include:

  • Physical exam and history
  • Pelvic Exam, your doctor will use her gloved finger to check your:
    • Uterus
    • Vagina
    • Ovaries
    • Fallopian tubes
    • Bladder
    • Rectum
  • Diagnostic Tests
    • Ultrasound
    • Biopsy of tissue or cells
    • Computed tomography (CT) scan
    • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan
    • Lower gastrointestinal (GI) series or barium enema
    • CA-125 assay
    • OVA1 test


Treatment depends on the extent of the cancer and your general health:

  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy 

The more advanced the tumor at diagnosis, the poorer the prognosis. Unfortunately, 75% of all epithelial tumors are stage 3 or 4 at the time of diagnosis. The overall five-year survival rate is about 50%.


There are no guidelines for preventing ovarian cancer because the cause is unknown. Symptoms also are not present in the early stages. All women should have regular physical exams including vaginal exams and palpation of the ovaries.


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.