MSK surgeon Dennis Chi prepares for a procedure to treat ovarian cancer

Ovarian cancer is the second most common type of gynecologic cancer in the United States. It affects one to two of every 100 women. There are more than 30 different types of ovarian cancer, and each type is classified based on the cells that are growing in the ovary.

The ovaries are almond-sized female reproductive organs that produce ova, or eggs, as well as the female hormones estrogen and progesterone. Women usually have two ovaries located in the pelvis – one on each side of the uterus. Cancerous and noncancerous (benign) tumors can form in the ovaries, as can ovarian cysts, which are benign fluid-filled sacs.

Cancer can develop in different types of cells, such as:

  • germ cells, which ultimately form eggs
  • stromal cells, which help hold the ovary together, and release estrogen and progesterone
  • surface epithelial cells, which cover the outer surface of the ovaries

Ninety percent of tumors develop in the surface epithelial cells. Cancer in these cells often begins at the end of the fallopian tubes, which are located on each side of the uterus. The eggs travel through the fallopian tubes to the uterus. Cancer can also develop in the peritoneum, the tissue lining the wall and covering the organs of the abdomen. Ovarian, fallopian tube, and peritoneal cancer are basically treated the same way.

Anatomy of ovaries and uterus

There are several known risk factors for ovarian cancer. Sometimes the risk is passed down through the generations through genes, such BRCA, which is also related to an increased risk for breast cancer. Genetic tests performed by Memorial Sloan Kettering experts can help you determine if you are at increased risk and if you are, the experts can speak to you about your options, such as preventive ovary removal.

If you do have ovarian cancer, surgery can give us crucial information about your diagnosis, from the type of tumor you have to its stage (if it has spread and if so, how far). This information helps your team of specialists decide which treatments are best for you. Women who come to Memorial Sloan Kettering benefit from the world’s only surgical team dedicated solely to ovarian cancer, and our outcomes for women at all stages of this cancer are among the best in the world.

Our experts recommend that most women undergo chemotherapy, as a preventative measure, after surgery. We have broad expertise in this field and can offer several options, such as intraperitoneal (IP) chemotherapy, which allows a high concentration of drugs to reach the area where your cancer was.