What is ovarian cancer?

Ovarian cancer: definition

ovarian cancerCancer is related to the out of control growth of cells that can eventually spread to other areas of the body. Ovarian cancer begins in the ovaries, which are reproductive glands found only in females. Women have two ovaries, one on each side of the uterus. The ovaries are responsible for producing eggs (for reproduction) as well as the hormones estrogen, and progesterone.

The ovaries are made of three kinds of cells. Each of these cells can develop into a different type of tumor. The following are the different types of ovarian cancers:


  • Epithelial tumors: They make up 85% – 90% of the ovarian cancers. These tumors start from the cells that cover the outer surface of the ovary. Many of the tumor cells have several features that are used to classify the epithelial tumors into different types. The most common one is the “serous type”. The grade of the tumor also represents how normal the tissues look. They are categorized on a scale of 1 to 3. Grade 1 epithelial ovarian cancer looks more like normal tissue. Grade 3 tumors look less normal and usually have a worse prognosis.


  • Germ cell tumors: These tumors are not very common. They start from the cells that produce the eggs. They are found in females between the ages of 10 to 29. Less than 2% of ovarian cancers are germ cell tumors. In general, this type of tumor has a good prognosis, with more than 9 out of 10 patients surviving at least 5 years after diagnosis.


  • Stromal cell tumors: They start from structural tissue cells that hold the ovary together and produce female hormones. Over 90% of these tumors are adult or childhood granulosa cell tumors.



Many of the tumors that develop are benign and don’t spread beyond the ovaries. These can be treated by either removing the ovary, or part of the ovary that contains the tumor. Malignant tumors can spread to other parts of the body and can be fatal.