Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer is cancer that develops in the ovaries, the female reproductive glands that produce eggs. It is the fifth-leading cause of cancer-related death among women in the U.S. and comprises about 3 percent of all cancers in women.

UT Southwestern Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center has a team of experts in ovarian cancer, including gynecologic oncologists, geneticists, dietitians, psychologists, and many others to help patients through their cancer journey.

Types of ovarian cancer

There are two primary types of ovarian cancer:

  • Ovarian epithelial carcinoma, which arises in the ovary’s surface cells
  • Malignant germ-cell tumors, which develop inside egg cells

Inherited genetic mutations – including those in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes – as well as some other familial conditions can raise a woman’s risk of ovarian and breast cancer. Women who think they could be at risk for ovarian cancer due to their health or family history can turn to genetic counseling.

Ovarian cancer symptoms and diagnosis

Ovarian cancer often goes undetected until it has spread to the pelvis and abdomen. As it progresses, patients may experience:

  • Abdominal pressure, fullness, swelling, or bloating
  • Increased abdominal girth or clothes fitting tighter around the waist
  • Pelvic discomfort or pain
  • Persistent indigestion, gas, or nausea
  • Changes in bowel habits, such as constipation
  • Changes in bladder habits, including a frequent need to urinate
  • Loss of appetite or quickly feeling full after eating
  • A persistent lack of energy
  • Pain in the lower back or side 

We use a wide range of oncology imaging techniques to diagnose, treat, and monitor patients with ovarian cancer. These include:

Ovarian cancer treatments

Treatment for ovarian cancer depends on its characteristics and stage, a woman’s overall health, and the patient’s preferences and goals. Options typically include: 

Surgery

If ovarian cancer is diagnosed at an early stage, surgery may involve removing only one ovary and fallopian tube. Women with advanced stages of ovarian cancer may require surgery to remove both ovaries and fallopian tubes, the uterus, omentum (tissue that connects and insulates abdominal organs), and nearby lymph nodes.

Thanks to advances in surgical technologies and tools, we offer a growing number of minimally invasive and laparoscopic techniques for surgically treating ovarian cancer.

In minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery, small incisions are made in the abdomen. Tiny cameras and instruments are inserted through the incisions (a procedure known as endoscopy). The cameras guide the surgeon as he or she uses the instruments to remove the cancer or diseased organs. We offer laparoscopic hysterectomy as an option for some patients with ovarian cancer.

Because the incisions are small, recovery time is often much faster for endoscopic procedures.

Learn more about surgery for gynecologic cancers.

Chemotherapy

After surgery, most patients require chemotherapy to kill any remaining cancer cells. 

Intraperitoneal chemotherapy is an intricate and unique treatment in which we deliver chemotherapy drugs directly into the abdominal cavity through a catheter. Administered in some ovarian cancer cases, it directly targets cancer cells in the abdomen, minimizing drug exposure to healthy tissues. Only highly experienced oncologists – like those in our gastrointestinal cancer program – are able to offer this type of intense treatment.

Learn more about medical treatments for gynecologic cancers.

Clinical trials

Many patients qualify to participate in gynecologic cancer-related clinical trials to gain access to new medical treatments and to further research of these diseases.

Learn about current ovarian cancer clinical trials offered at UT Southwestern. 

Related condition: Ovarian cysts

Most women will develop an ovarian cyst at some point in their lives. The majority of these fluid-filled sacs are harmless and do not require treatment. Some ovarian cysts, however, can cause problems if they become large or rupture. In rare cases, they also can be a sign of ovarian cancer.

Ovarian cysts can cause symptoms similar to ovarian cancer. It’s important to see a doctor if any of the symptoms mentioned above persist for 12 or more days.

Learn more about ovarian cysts.

Meet Our Experts

Our team of ovarian cancer experts includes:

* Dr. Miller is credited with removing the second largest ovarian tumor in the state of Texas. It weighed more than 150 pounds.

Learn more about our team.

Request an Appointment

To schedule an appointment with an ovarian cancer specialist, request an appointment or call 214-645-8300.