OVARIAN CANCER

Ovarian cancer is a malignant tumor, or an abnormal growth of cells. It can begin in one or both ovaries (female reproductive glands). Like all malignancies, ovarian malignant tumors are made up of abnormal cells that surround tissues and travel to other parts of the body. For more information on ovarian cancer statistics click here.

There are many different types of ovarian cancer, which are classified according to the type of cell from which they develop. Prognosis greatly depends on the type of ovarian cancer and how far the cancer has spread at the time of diagnosis.

Cancerous tumors can begin from any of the following cells: Epithelial (covering or lining the ovaries); germ cells (cells that are destined to form eggs); and sex cord-stromal cells (cells that secrete hormones and connect to different structures of the ovaries).

*Epithelial Ovarian Tumors: Epithelial ovarian tumors account for the majority of cancers of the ovaries. These include the following types of tumors:

* Serous Tumors. This is the most common type of ovarian cancer, accounting for approximately 40% of epithelial tumors. They occur most often in women between the ages of 40 and 60.

* Endometroid Tumors. These tumors account for 20% of common epithelial tumors and are most common in women between the ages of 50 and 70.

* Mucinous Tumors. These tumors account for approximately one percent of epithelial tumors and are most common in women between the ages of 30 and 50.

* Clear Cell Carcinoma. These tumors account for 6% of common epithelial tumors and are most common in women between the ages of 40 and 80.

* Borderline Ovarian Tumors. These tumors are a subgroup of common epithelial tumors and occur in 10% to 15% of cases. They are most common in women between the ages of 30 and 80. They usually originate on the surface of the ovary, and because they do not invade the ovary they have a better prognosis and cure rate than invasive tumors.

* Germ Cell Tumors: Germ cell tumors account for approximately 5% of all ovarian cancer cases. They begin in cells where germ cells form and may develop into several types of tumors. Most germ cells are not cancerous, although some may be cancerous and life threatening. These tumors can occur in women at any age, although the peak incidence is early 20s. Germ cell tumors include the following:

* Dysgerminoma is the most common type of germ cell tumor and accounts for approximately 50% of all germ cell cancer cases. About 20% of these cases are diagnosed during pregnancy and approximately 80% occur in women younger than age 30.

* Endodermal Sinus Tumors are the second most common type of germ cell cancers and account for approximately 20% of all cases. These tumors are more common in younger women with peak incidence occurring at age 19.

* Embryonal carcinoma, immature teratoma, choriocarcinoma, polyembryomas, and mixed germ cell tumors are less common types of germ cell cancers.

*Sex Cord-Stromal Tumors: These types of tumors account for about 5% of ovarian cancer cases. These tumors generally occur in younger women and only about 10% occur in those over the age of 50. In about 33% of these tumors, women may develop virilism (infrequent menstrual periods, menstrual periods after menopause, appearance of facial hair and hoarse voice).