The most common ovarian tumors begin in the cells that cover the ovary. These tumors are called epithelial tumors. Tumors can also begin in germ cells (cells that form eggs) or stromal cells (cells that produce hormones and hold the ovary together). Many ovarian tumors are benign (not cancerous). If an ovarian tumor is cancerous, it is most likely a malignant epithelial tumor.

Ovary Anatomy

The number of cases of ovarian cancer has been decreasing over the past 20 years. In 2016, an estimated 22,000 women are expected to be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the United States. Less than 1 in 5 cases of ovarian cancer are diagnosed before the cancer has spread outside the ovary.

Treatment for ovarian cancer depends on the stage of the cancer, your age, if you plan to have children, and your overall health. Your personal treatment preference is also an important factor.

Chemotherapy can cause side effects

Chemotherapy (chemo) stops or slows the growth of cancer cells. Often, cancer cells are fast growing. But chemo also damages healthy cells that divide quickly. These healthy cells can include cells in the bone marrow that make blood, cells in the lining of the gut and mouth, and hair cells. Damage to healthy cells is what causes many chemo side effects. Here's how it works:

  • When chemo damages healthy blood cells, the result can be:
  • Chemo may damage healthy cells in the stomach. The chemo medications then irritate these areas, which could result in nausea and vomiting. Chemo medications may also trigger signals in the brain that tell your body to vomit.
  • When chemo affects healthy cells surrounding hair follicles, the result can be hair loss. Hair loss is also known as alopecia.

Chemo can cause many other side effects, but the good news is that there may be ways to manage them.

A Closer Look: Evelyn*
A retired school teacher, Evelyn has a history of stage III ovarian cancer. She begins to experience fatigue, bloating, and abdominal pain.
She has previously been through many rounds of chemo. Her cancer has been in remission for 6 years.
An exam and MRI find a nodule in her vagina. A biopsy is performed, which confirms her diagnosis.
Her doctor prescribes a chemo regimen for 5 days in a row over a 21-day cycle.
Because of her previous experience with chemo, Evelyn knows what, in general, to expect. But she has never had the chemo regimen her doctor prescribed before. She discusses chemo side effects management with her doctor.
Her doctor and care team help her prepare to manage the chemo side effects.

*This is a fictional case study based on chemo patient experiences. Your experience is unique. Your doctor and care team will create a plan that will best treat your type of cancer and manage your chemo side effects.

Learn more about managing chemo side effects and make sure to speak with your doctor and care team to plan for managing chemo side effects.

Check out these questions to help you prepare.

Click here for a discussion guide about chemo and infection to use with your healthcare team.

Ovarian Cancer Resources

  • Getting Started:
    Questions Worksheet

  • The Chemotherapy and Infection Discussion Guide can help you understand your
    risk of infection

    Infection can be a serious side effect of strong chemo. Find out the factors that affect your risk of infection. Simply answer a few questions, and then print your results to share with your doctor.

    Use the Chemotherapy and Infection Discussion Guide to find out more.

  • How Cells Divide and How Chemotherapy Works

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