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Be aware of causes, signs of ovarian cancer

Jessica Gerbes, Nursing Student Intern, and Molly Vetter-Smith, MPH, MEd, RD, State Health Education Specialist, University of Missouri Extension


Ovarian cancer is a cancer that forms in the tissue of a woman’s ovary and is the fifth leading cause of death from cancer in women. Although the exact causes of ovarian cancer are not known, there are factors that increase the chance of getting ovarian cancer:


  • Age: Most ovarian cancers develop in women over age 55.
  • Family history: If you have a first-degree relative (mother, daughters, sisters, aunt or grandmother on your mother’s or father’s side) who has had ovarian cancer, you are at increased risk of getting ovarian cancer. The risk is higher if two or more of your first-degree relatives have had it. You are also at greater risk of getting ovarian cancer if you have a family history of breast or colon cancer.
  • Personal history: If you have had cancer of the breast, uterus, colon or rectum, you may have a greater chance of getting ovarian cancer. You are also at higher risk if you have been diagnosed with endometriosis. There is also research that shows a link between obesity and ovarian cancer.
  • Childbearing: Women who have never had children or struggled with getting pregnant are more likely to develop ovarian cancer. The more children a woman has had, the less likely she is to get the disease. Breast-feeding your children may help prevent ovarian cancer.
  • Hormone replacement therapy (HRT): Some studies suggest that women who use HRT after menopause, like estrogen, may be at a slightly higher risk of getting ovarian cancer.
  • Fertility drugs: Researchers are studying a possible link between fertility drugs (drugs that cause a woman to ovulate) and an increased risk for ovarian cancer.
  • Female surgery: Having a tubal litigation (also known as getting your tubes tied) or a hysterectomy (removing the uterus without removing the ovaries) may prevent ovarian cancer.


Scientists are studying ways to find ovarian cancer early, when the chances of getting rid of the cancer are best. Signs of ovarian cancer are:


  • Pain in the pelvic or abdominal area (the area below your stomach and between your hip bones)
  • Back pain
  • Feeling tired often
  • Bloating or swelling in the area below your stomach
  • Having to pass urine very badly or very often
  • Heartburn or upset stomach
  • Discharge or blood from your vagina that is not normal for you


If you have any of these signs every day for two weeks or longer, and they are not normal for you, speak to your doctor or other health care professional.


For more information about ovarian cancer, call the Cancer Information Service, a program of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237) between 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. or visit the NCI website at Information is also provided on the American Cancer Society website at and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Cancer Society, and National Cancer Institute


This article was adapted from information provided by the National Cancer Institute’s Heartland Cancer Information Service.



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Last Updated 08/20/2010