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What is ovarian cancer?

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner

Ovarian cancer is an abnormal growth of the cells within a woman's ovary. The cells begin to divide at a faster rate than cells in normal tissue. These cells become cancerous when they attain the ability to invade, or grow into, nearby tissue and spread to other parts of the body.

In ovarian cancer, the cells of the ovary grow and divide uncontrollably. The cells may form a tumor on the ovary, parts of which can break off and spread to other parts of the body.

Although ovarian cancer can spread throughout the body and affect other organs and systems (brain, lungs, breast and lymph nodes, for example), in most cases it stays in the abdomen and affects organs such as the intestines, liver and stomach.

Ovarian cancer is a complex and rapidly progressive disease that affects a relatively small percentage of women but has poor survival rates. In the United States, the number of deaths attributed to ovarian cancer is about the same as that of all other gynecologic cancers combined.

Ovarian cancer is a malignant tumor that starts growing in an ovary. Sometimes cells in an ovary start misbehaving, making more and more cells without stopping. These cells then group together and form a tumor. Benign tumors stay in one place and do not usually cause problems. Malignant tumors are more dangerous; they can spread or travel to nearby tissues or other places in the body. A malignant tumor that starts growing in an ovary is called ovarian cancer. As the cancer spreads, it can cause problems in different parts of the body, depending on where the cancer cells travel to.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.