A Fox Chase Women's Cancer Center Program

Ovarian Cancer

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What is Ovarian Cancer?

Ovarian epithelial cancer—the most common ovarian cancer—is a disease in which cancerous cells form in the tissue covering the ovary.

More than 20,000 American women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer this year.

Ovarian cancer is a disease in which cancerous cells form in the tissue covering the ovary. The ovaries, which produce eggs, are positioned on each side of the uterus. Ovaries are the main source of a woman's female hormones—estrogen and progesterone.

Ovarian Cancer Symptoms

In early stages, there may be no symptoms for ovarian cancer.

Ovarian cancer can have subtle symptoms which can be easily confused with other conditions. If you have symptoms of ovarian cancer or cysts that persist and cannot be explained by other reasons, report them to your doctor.

  • Vague abdominal pain and pelvic discomfort
  • A feeling of being bloated or noticing that clothes don't fit as well as they once did
  • Loss of appetite or feeling full even after a light meal
  • Gas and/or indigestion that persists over time
  • Unusual weight loss or gain
  • A change in bowel habits, or a frequent urge to urinate
  • Unexplained fatigue or back pain
  • Unusual bleeding or discharge
  • Pain during intercourse
  • Shortness of breath

Assessing Your Risk

There are no standard screening tests for an ovarian cancer diagnosis. Family history can be important. Women who have a family history of ovarian cancer are at an increased risk of getting the disease. Women with an increased risk of ovarian cancer may consider surgery (removal of the ovaries) to prevent it.
Assessing your risk »


Treatment Options for Ovarian Cancer

Primary treatment is surgery to remove the cancer (through total hysterectomy to remove the uterus and cervix) as well as surrounding tissue to which the cancer has spread (debulking). Hysterectomies are almost always performed using robotic-assisted surgery, which is minimally invasive. Following surgery, chemotherapy (anti-cancer drugs), such as carboplatin and paclitaxel, are given intravenously.


Dr. Christina Chu

Christina S. Chu, MD, specializes in gynecologic surgery and clinical trials.

Surgeons who specialize in gynecologic cancers, such as Cynthia Bergman, MD, FACOG, Christina S. Chu, MD, Stephanie King, MD, Gina Mantia-Smaldone, MD, or Fox Chase's Chief of Gynecologic Oncology Stephen Rubin, MD, may perform a minimally invasive procedure (da Vinci® robotic-assisted laparoscopic surgery) to measure the effectiveness of the current treatment and to determine whether you need additional treatment. This procedure involves tiny incisions in the abdomen, which reduces possible complications and shortens the recovery time.

Open surgery remains the best option for most women with ovarian cancer.

Chemotherapy and Intraperitoneal Therapy

Intraperitoneal therapy (delivering drugs through a catheter into the abdominal cavity) is used for limited, or isolated, disease. In contrast, chemotherapy uses the bloodstream to deliver drugs to the tumor.

Advanced Ovarian Disease

If the cancer is advanced and has spread to other organs, surgeons team up with other specialists (gastrointestinal, urologic and liver) who can reconstruct the remaining organs so you may maintain function.

For women with ovarian cancer that has recurred after initial treatment, drugs such as topotecan, doxorubicin, etoposide, gemcitabine and cyclophosphamide may be used. These drugs may be given orally or intravenously.

Ovarian cancer tends to spread throughout the abdominal cavity. Radiation therapy is not usually an effective treatment on its own; however, it may be used to alleviate pain and weakness resulting from the cancer.

Clinical Trials

Find a Clinical Trial

Fox Chase physicians have expertise using clinical trials with newer drugs, especially targeted agents, in the treatment of ovarian cancer (both primary and recurrence).

Preserving Fertility

For patients who want to preserve the ability to have children, it is sometimes possible to remove only one affected ovary and its adjoining fallopian tube. If the cancer has spread beyond one ovary, however, debulking usually requires removal of both ovaries and their adjoining fallopian tubes, the uterus and pelvic lymph nodes. These tissues will be examined to find out whether the cancer has spread and whether additional therapy will be needed.

Widespread Flaws Found in Ovarian Cancer Treatment

by Denise Grady, New York Times
March 11, 2013

...Cancer specialists around the country say the main reason for the poor care is that most women are treated by doctors and hospitals that see few cases of the disease and lack expertise in the complex surgery and chemotherapy that can prolong life....

...Ms. Mason had six hours of surgery at the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, with a gynecologic oncologist...Then, Ms. Mason had chemotherapy...The disease has not recurred. Had she stuck with the first doctor, she believes, "I would be gone."

"I feel so strongly about letting women know that you need to get to a center of excellence," Ms. Mason said. "It's shocking to think it's still not happening."
Read Karen Mason's Patient Story »

My Fox Chase Experience:
Making a Difference

Karen Mason
As survivors of ovarian cancer, April Donahue and Karen Mason wanted to make a difference on the future of cancer research.
Find out how Fox Chase scientists took them up on their offer


[ 1/5/2015]

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Call a Nurse Navigator


Your nurse navigator is your personal guide through  gynecological oncology treatment and recovery journey

Your Nurse Navigator will be there to assist you at every step along the way, from the first call through follow-up visits.

Patients who come to the Center for ovarian cancer treatment are offered individualized, compassionate care with a focus on wellness, stress reduction and quality of life and access to our full scope of research opportunities, with a personal guide to help the patient navigate the details.
Meet the Nurse Navigators »

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Learn what other patients experienced as they sought treatment and discovered Fox Chase Cancer Center.
See National Cancer Institute information on
Ovarian Cancer

Cancer diagnosis information for patients from the College of American Pathologists