The ovaries, located on both sides of the uterus, produce and release eggs, as well as female hormones. Ovarian cancer occurs when cancerous cells develop in the ovaries.
There are several types of ovarian cancer:
- Epithelial ovarian cancer is the most common type. Cancer develops on the ovaries' surface in the epithelial cells or from the fallopian tube.
- Familial breast-ovarian cancer syndrome is an inherited condition that can cause ovarian or breast cancer.
- Germ cell ovarian cancer occurs when cancerous cells develop in the cells that form the eggs in the ovaries.
- Stromal cell ovarian cancer starts in the cells that produce female hormones and hold ovarian tissues together.
Studies show that women with ovarian cancer have improved outcomes when they receive treatment from a gynecologic oncologist at a high-volume medical center — such as Weill Cornell Medical Center.
Our expert gynecologic oncologists care for patients compassionately, offering the best possible chance for cure with the best possible quality of life. Our team focuses on decreasing toxicity and protecting quality of life with minimally invasive and fertility-sparing surgical techniques, as well as sentinel lymph node biopsies.
Ovarian cancer patients find comfort in our personalized, holistic, and warm approach to care. In addition to access to experts at a leading academic medical center, our patients also benefit from greater access to their attending physician, video visits, e-message, flexible scheduling, and collaborative care with a wide range of specialists.
Ovarian Cancer Prevention and Screening
Ovarian Cancer Risk Factors
Studies show that women who are obese, have a family history of cancer, have certain genetic mutations (including BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 gene mutations), had children after age 35 or never carried a pregnancy to term, used in vitro fertilization (IVF), or took hormone therapy after menopause have a higher risk for ovarian cancer.
Women can reduce their risk for ovarian cancer by achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, staying active, and not taking hormone therapy after menopause. Women with a family history of cancer may want to discuss oral contraceptives and genetic testing.
Ovarian Cancer Screening
There is currently no effective screen for ovarian cancer. Prompt recognition and evaluation of suspicious symptoms is essential to avoid delays in diagnosing the disease.
Ovarian Cancer Symptoms
Ovarian cancer was often referred to as the “silent killer” because it was thought that there were no symptoms until the disease was widespread and at an advanced stage. Fortunately, recent studies show that this is untrue.
Women with early-stage ovarian cancer often experience:
- Abdominal or pelvic pain
- Feeling full quickly
- Difficulty eating
- A frequent or urgent need to urinate
Women who experience these symptoms daily for more than two weeks should consult with their gynecologist for an examination.
How We Diagnose Ovarian Cancer
When evaluating a women for ovarian cancer, physicians perform a general physical and pelvic exam. In addition, blood tests may be ordered. Finally, a surgical assessment may be recommended to confirm the diagnosis and aid in staging the disease.
Imaging and Staging
Several imaging tests help physicians diagnose ovarian cancer, as well as determine the type, stage, and extent of disease. Imaging tests may include a transvaginal ultrasound, computed tomography (CT) scan, and other tests.
- Stage I: Cancer is found in one or both ovaries. Cancer cells may also be found in fluid collected from the abdomen.
- Stage II: Cancerous cells have spread from the ovaries to other parts of the pelvis, such as the fallopian tubes or uterus.
- Stage III: Cancerous cells have spread outside the pelvis to the nearby lymph nodes, diaphragm, intestines, or liver.
- Stage IV: The cancer has spread beyond the abdomen, often to the lungs or spleen.
Ovarian Cancer Treatment Options at Weill Cornell Medicine
Our team of gynecologic oncologists personalize treatment depending on many factors, including type, stage, and fertility goals.
Individual treatment plans may include a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and other treatment options. Our physicians work closely with patients to minimize side effects and promote greater comfort throughout treatment.
Surgery is the first step in treating ovarian cancer. Minimally invasive surgical techniques may be appropriate for certain patients.
The goal of surgery is to remove as many cancerous cells as possible. Surgical options include:
- Salpingo-oophorectomy is the surgical removal of the ovaries and fallopian tubes.
- Hysterectomy is the surgical removal of the uterus and cervix.
- Debulking is the surgical removal of any additional cancerous cells and tumors.
Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancerous cells. To limit side effects and damage to healthy cells, ovarian cancer patients are usually given chemotherapy in cycles with several rest periods. Chemotherapy may be recommended before or after surgery, or both.
Most women receive intravenous chemotherapy (injected into a vein). Our expert gynecologic oncologists determine the most effective combination of drugs for each patient, depending on a variety of factors.
Our patients benefit from Weill Cornell Medicine's state-of-the-art chemotherapy treatment center, which provides unique support and resources.
Some types of ovarian cancers can be treated with hormone therapy. This treatment blocks receptors and inhibits female hormones to prevent ovarian cancer cells from getting or using the hormones needed to grow and multiply. Hormone therapy is usually given in the form of pills.
Immunotherapy is the use of medications to stimulate your immune system to recognize and destroy cancer cells more effectively. Your physician determines the best immunotherapy medications and timing for taking them.
With care from a highly trained gynecologic oncologist, immunotherapy can be an integral part of your ovarian cancer treatment.
Our gynecologic oncologists work closely with the expert reproductive medicine specialists at Weill Cornell Medicine to offer ovarian cancer patients options to preserve fertility, including:
- For patients with early stage ovarian cancer, it may be possible to surgically treat ovarian cancer by removing only one ovary and fallopian tube.
- Egg and embryo freezing.
- Preservation of ovarian tissue.
Meet Our Doctors
Our gynecologic oncologists provide compassionate care based on the latest ovarian cancer research and clinical findings.
Weill Cornell Medicine’s team of empathetic and caring oncologists, physician assistants, and staff provide a warm environment for patients to receive personalized care. Patients connect with their care team, and benefit from our gynecologic oncologists’ extensive training, individualized care, and collaboration with other specialists at our top-ranked hospital. All aspects of care — from the treatment plan to appointment scheduling — are based on the individual patient’s unique needs.
Comprehensive, Interdisciplinary Cancer Care
The gynecologic oncologists at Weill Cornell Medicine collaborate with other specialists and researchers within the cancer center to offer unparalleled interdisciplinary care at our top-ranked hospital.
Weill Cornell Medicine patients have access to specialists in gynecology, surgical oncology, medical oncology, pathology, radiation oncology, genetics, nutrition, social work, and reproductive medicine. In addition, our patients benefit from collaborative care with:
- The Integrative Health and Wellbeing Program
- The Weill Cornell Medicine Sandra and Edward Meyer Cancer Center
- The Ronald O. Perelman and Claudia Cohen Center for Reproductive Medicine
- Psychiatry Specialty Center
Our gynecologic oncologists and physician assistants work closely with patients to promote wellness during and after treatment — with the goal of helping you return to the full breadth of functional living you enjoyed before the diagnosis. Our team provides frequent follow-up care and surveillance for recurrence.
Surveillance is the period of time after the completion of cancer treatment when there is no evidence of residual cancer and patients are seen periodically. Typically, these visits are every three to six months and include an assessment for any worrisome symptoms, a complete physical exam, and at times the ordering of radiologic tests. This is the opportunity not only to check for any evidence of cancer recurrence, but also to evaluate a patient’s recovery from any potential side effects. We also discuss healthy eating habits, stress relief, and overall well-being.
In addition, we will connect you with support groups, services, and resources to live as fully as possible.
Other Support Services
- Subsidized cold caps, a device used to reduce hair loss during chemotherapy
- Genetic counseling
- Psychosocial services, including supportive and adjustment counseling, crisis intervention, psychosocial evaluations and treatment planning by social workers and psychiatrists