What is Ovarian Cancer?

By  , Expert Content
Oct 04, 2012

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Ovarian cancer is a type of cancer that develops in a woman's ovaries. A woman has two ovaries, one on each side of the uterus in the pelvis. Ovaries are a part of female reproductive system and it produces eggs called ova. It also secretes the main female hormones, i.e. estrogen and progesterone. [Read: How Do You Get Ovarian Cancer?]

Three kinds of cells present in the ovary and cancer can develop in any of these. The three types of cells in the ovary are:

  • epithelial cells that  cover the ovary
  • Germ cells that make eggs (ova) in the ovary
  • Stromal cells that form the tissue which holds the ovary together and also makes most of the female hormones (estrogen and progesterone).


Ovarian cancers are named on the kind of cells from which they develop. The tumour can be benign or cancerous (malignant). The three main types of ovarian tumours are:

  • Epithelial tumours: Tumours which develop from the cells that cover the outer surface of the ovary are called epithelial cell tumours and these are the commonest type of ovarian tumours.
  • Germ cell tumours: These tumours develop from the cells that form the eggs.
  • Stromal tumours: These tumours develop in the cells that hold the ovary together and synthesise the female hormones estrogen and progesterone.


Understanding Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer is a common cause of cancer death in women claiming the lives of over 1,00,000 women per year. The cancer occurs more commonly in women older than 50 years although it can affect younger women. The exact cause of ovarian cancer is not known. Normally, cells grow and divide in an orderly way to form new cells as the body needs them (the old cells die, and new cells take their place). Cancers are formed when the cells, (the building blocks that make up tissues) do not divide and grow in an orderly manner. So more cells than are needed are formed, and these extra cells form a mass of tissue called a growth or tumour. Cancer cells can invade that is spread to other parts of the body through the blood and lymph systems. Ovarian tumours can be benign or malignant. [Read: How Does Ovarian Cancer Affect the Body?]

  • Benign tumours: These tumours (not cancer) do not spread beyond the ovary and are usually not life-threatening. They are treated by removing either the ovary or the part of the ovary that has the tumour and their prognosis is good.
  • Malignant tumours (cancer): These tumours can spread to other parts of the body and can be life-threatening. When diagnosed in early stages response to treatment is good. But if the tumour has spread to other organs it is more difficult to treat and cure.


Read more articles on Ovarian Cancer.


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