Ovarian Cancer: What You Need to Know

Unnoticed symptoms and high-risk factors

Compared to other cancers, ovarian cancer is relatively rare. Ovarian cancer accounts for about 2.5 percent of cancers among women, but it causes more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system. According to the National Cancer Institute, it is estimated that by the end of 2018, there will be 22,240 new cases of ovarian cancer and an estimated 14,070 women will die of this disease.

  • • Ovarian cancer is the 5th leading cause of cancer deaths in women in the U.S.
  • • There is a 1 in 79 chance that a woman will get ovarian cancer during her lifetime.
  • • About 22,240 women in the U.S. will receive a new diagnosis of ovarian cancer in 2018. 
  • • An estimated 14,070 women will die from ovarian cancer in 2018. 
  • Half of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer are age 63 or older.

Resources and tools

Risk factors


Ovarian cancer occurs at higher-than-expected rates in women with endometriosis. Despite the fact that endometriosis and cancer are two separate diseases, there is evidence that having endometriosis increases the risk of developing cancer later in life, in particular ovarian cancer.

•   All women are at risk

Any woman with ovaries is at some risk of ovarian cancer. If you have ever had breast or colon cancer, you may be at an increased risk of ovarian cancer.

Family cancer syndromes: genetic predisposition

Hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome is caused by mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes and can be inherited from either parent. 

Lynch syndrome is another risk factor for ovarian cancer. An inherited condition, Lynch syndrome increases the risk of colon cancer and significantly increases the risk of developing ovarian and uterine cancers. It also slightly increases the risk of breast cancer.

Women with a family history of ovarian or breast cancer, or who appear to be at high risk, should receive genetic counseling. If the risk appears to be substantial, you may be offered genetic testing for BRCA1 and BRCA2. Learn more about genetic counseling at The University of Kansas Cancer Center.

Increasing age

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), the risk of developing ovarian cancer increases with age. Ovarian cancer is rare in women younger than 40. Most ovarian cancers develop after menopause. Half of all ovarian cancers are found in women age 63 or older.

Reproductive history

Women who have been pregnant and carried to term before age 26 have a lower risk of ovarian cancer than women who have not. The risk goes down with each full-term pregnancy, according to the ACS. Women who have their first full-term pregnancy after age 35 or who never carried a pregnancy to term have a higher risk of ovarian cancer. Using oral contraceptives is one way that many women can reduce their risk of developing ovarian cancer. Oral contraceptives also seem to reduce this risk for women with BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations.


Controlling weight by choosing a healthy diet and lifestyle including exercise can improve your overall health, in addition to lowering your cancer risk. Consult your physician for more information.

Hereditary factors can affect risk

Ovarian cancer is difficult to detect in the early stages partly because the ovaries are small organs located deep within the abdominal cavity on either side of the uterus. Women also often attribute symptoms to other conditions such as menstruation or menopause. The most common signs and symptoms include: 

 Abdominal discomfort, bloating or pelvic pain

 Feeling the need to urinate urgently or often

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 Loss of appetite, nausea, gas or feeling full quickly, even after small meals

Other symptoms of ovarian cancer can include:

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 Back pain

  Change in bathroom habits – constipation or diarrhea 


 Menstrual changes, irregular bleeding

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 Upset stomach or heartburn

If any of the above symptoms are new and persist for more than two weeks, see your physician. To make an appointment, call 913-588-1227 or toll-free 844-323-1227.