Overview

The ovaries and fallopian tubes are part of the female reproductive system. There is one ovary and one fallopian tube on each side of the uterus (the hollow, pear-shaped organ where a fetus grows). The ovaries store eggs and make female hormones. Eggs pass from the ovaries, through the fallopian tubes, to the uterus. The peritoneum is the tissue that lines the abdomen wall and covers organs in the abdomen. Part of the peritoneum is close to the ovaries and fallopian tubes.

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Anatomy of the female reproductive system. The organs in the female reproductive system include the uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes, cervix, and vagina.

The most common type of ovarian cancer is called ovarian epithelial cancer. It begins in the tissue that covers the ovaries. Cancersometimes begins at the end of the fallopian tube near the ovary and spreads to the ovary. Cancer can also begin in the peritoneum and spread to the ovary. The stages and treatment are the same for ovarian epithelial, fallopian tube, and primary peritoneal cancers.Another type of ovarian cancer is ovarian germ cell tumor, which is much less common. It begins in the germ (egg) cells in the ovary. Ovarian low malignant potential tumor (OLMPT) is a type of ovarian disease in which abnormal cells form in the tissue that covers the ovaries. OLMPT rarely becomes cancer.

Cancers of the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and primary peritoneum are the fifth leading cause of cancer death in women in the U.S. These cancers are often found at advanced stages. This is partly because they may not cause early signs or symptoms and there are no good screening tests for them.

Signs and symptoms

Signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer are frequently absent in early stages; even when they do exist, they may be subtle. In most cases, symptoms exist for several months before being recognized and diagnosed, or they may initially be misdiagnosed as a condition such as irritable bowel syndrome. The early stages of ovarian cancer tend to be painless unless the growing mass causes ovarian torsion. Early symptoms can include bloating, abdominopelvic pain, and pain in the side. The most typical symptoms of ovarian cancer include bloating, abdominal or pelvic pain or discomfort, back pain, irregular menstruation or postmenopausal vaginal bleeding, pain or bleeding after or duringsexual intercourse, difficulty eating, loss of appetite, fatigue, diarrhea, indigestion, heartburn, constipation, nausea, early satiety, and possibly urinary symptoms (including frequent urination and urgent urination); typically these symptoms are caused by a mass pressing on the other abdominopelvic organs or from metastases. If these symptoms start to occur more often or more severely than usual, especially after no significant history of such symptoms, ovarian cancer should be considered. Metastases may cause a Sister Mary Joseph nodule.