What is Ovarian Cancer?

Ovarian cancer is characterised by the presence of cancerous or malignant cells in the ovaries. These cells then form a tumor which can be identified based on their origin. There are 3 main types of ovarian cancer tumors:

Epithelial tumors: These tumors originate from cells which cover the outer surface of the ovary. Most ovarian tumors are epithelial cell tumors.

Germ cell tumors: These originate from the cells that produce the reproductive eggs or ova.

Stromal tumors: These originate from cells which provide the structural support for the ovaries and produce the female hormones estrogen and progesterone.


The symptoms of ovarian cancer are often uncharacteristic, vague and/or slowly emerging. The symptoms may consist of the sensation of a pelvic or abdominal mass, pain in the pelvis or abdomen, an altered sensation or pattern of toilet habits or obstipation, nausea, vomiting, dyspnoea and/or fatigue.


There is an estimated 239,000 new cases worldwide each year. A total of 140.000 women worldwide die annually from ovarian cancer including more than 400 Danish, 1.700 Nordic and 45,000 European women . 


Denmark has one of the highest incidences of ovarian cancer in the world. The lifetime risk of developing ovarian cancer being about 2% for Danish women compared to 1.4% - 1.8% in the United States (Reference: Role of CA125 in predicting ovarian cancer survival - a review of the epidemiological literature Digant Gupta and Christopher G Lis (Journal of Ovarian Cancer Research)).


When the patient is referred with symptoms suspected of ovarian cancer, a combined gynaecological and ultrasound examination is conducted. A cancer biomarker (CA125) is obtained from a blood sample. If patient's are suspected of having ovarian cancer, additional imaging modalities such as MRI, CT or PET/CT may be used prior to surgery or biopsy. The diagnosis can only be truly confirmed by histological examination from a biopsy or from removal of tumor masses. So far, there is no method for screening for ovarian cancer.


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Survival of ovarian cancer is highly correlated to the stage of disease at the time of diagnosis. In Denmark, the 5-year overall survival for women with ovarian cancer in stage I, II, III and IV are 83%, 62%, 23% and 14% respectively. Unfortunately, the vast majority of women are diagnosed in stage III and IV.