About Ovarian Cancer



  • Bloating
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
  • Urinary symptoms (urgency or frequency)

Additional symptoms may include fatigue, indigestion, back pain, pain with intercourse, constipation and menstrual irregularities, although these symptoms are found equally in women without the disease.

See your doctor, preferably a gynecologist, if you have these symptoms almost daily for more than a few weeks. Experts suggest a combination pelvic/rectal exam, a transvaginal ultrasound and a CA-125 blood test.


Ovarian Cancer Statistics

Each year in the United States, more than 21,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer and about 15,000 women die of the disease. The American Cancer Society estimates that about 21,550 new cases of ovarian cancer will be diagnosed in the United States during 2009.1  14,600 deaths are expected to be caused by ovarian cancer in the United States in 2009. 

According to the data, the mortality rates for ovarian cancer have not improved in thirty years since the “War on Cancer” was declared. However, other cancers have shown a marked reduction in mortality, due to the availability of early detection tests and improved treatments. Unfortunately, this is not the case with ovarian cancer, which is still the deadliest of all gynecologic cancers.

The Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) Program reports that on January 1, 2006 in the United States approximately 176,007 women were alive who had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer (including those who had been cured of the disease).2

Ovarian Cancer Incidence and Death Count in the United States3

Year  Incidence  Death Count
2009 21,500 (estimated) 14,600 (estimated)
2005 19,842 14,787
2004 20,069 14,716
2003 20,445 14,657
2002 19,792 14,682
2001 19,719 14,414
2000 19,672 14,060
1999 19,676 13,627

 Ovarian cancer accounts for approximately 3 percent of cancers in women.4 While the ninth most common cancer among women, ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer-related death among women, and is the deadliest of gynecologic cancers. Mortality rates are slightly higher for Caucasian women than for minority women.


  • A woman’s lifetime risk of developing invasive ovarian cancer is 1 in 71.5
  • A woman’s lifetime risk of dying from invasive ovarian cancer is 1 in 95.

Ovarian cancer primarily develops in women over 45. From 2002 to 2006, the median age at diagnosis was 63.6

Approximate Age at Diagnosis F/Y 2002 - 2006

Age Percent diagnosed
Under 20 1.3 percent
Between 20 and 34 3.5 percent
Between 35 and 44 7.4 percent
Between 45 and 54 18.9 percent
Between 55 and 64 22.3 percent
Between 65 and 74 19.9 percent
Between 75 and 84 19.0 percent
85 and older 7.6 percent

From 2002 to 2006, the median age of death from ovarian cancer was 71.


Ovarian cancer survival rates are much lower than other cancers that affect women.

  • Overall, the ten-year relative survival rate for ovarian cancer patients is 39%.7
  • The relative five-year survival rate is 46 percent. Survival rates vary depending on the stage of diagnosis.
  • Women diagnosed at an early stage have a much higher five-year survival rate than those diagnosed at a later stage.
  • Fewer than 20 percent of ovarian cancer patients are diagnosed early.

Survival Rate and Diagnosis for Varied Stages (1999-2005)8

Stage at diagnosis Five-year relative Survival Rate Percentage of Total Women Diagnosed
Localized (cancer is limited to organ from which it originated) 93.8 15 percent
Regional (cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes or organs and tissue) 72.8 17 percent
Distant (cancer has spread to distant organs or lymph nodes) 28.2 62 percent
Unstaged (not enough information to identify a stage) 27.3 7 percent

Comparison of cancer survival rates:

  • Women diagnosed with breast cancer in 1975 experienced a five-year survival rate of 75.3 percent9; today, the American Cancer Society estimates the rate to be 89 percent.
  • Women diagnosed with cervical cancer in 1975 experienced a five-year survival rate of 69 percent; today, the American Cancer Society estimates the rate to be 71 percent.
  • Women diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1975 experienced a five-year survival rate of 34.8 percent; today, the American Cancer Society estimates the rate to be 46 percent.

(Average annual percent change)

  Ovarian Breast Cervical
Trends in U.S. Cancer Incidence
1997 to 2006
(SEER 9 delay
adjusted incidence)
Decreased 1.5 percent Decreased 1.2
Decreased 3.5
Trends in U.S. Cancer Mortality
1997 to 2006
Decreased 0.4 percent Decreased 2.0
Decreased 2.8

  In the United States, doctors must report any diagnosis of cancer to a state registry.  The federal government, through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Program of Cancer Registries, oversees the registries in 45 states, the District of Columbia, and three territories. The Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) Program of the National Cancer Institute funds the remaining five statewide cancer registries. Together, the two programs cover the country’s population.

The statistics presented here come primarily from the most recent findings of the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) Program of the National Cancer Institute. The results are age-adjusted and based on the United States population. 2006 is the most recent year for which ovarian cancer statistics are available. More recent numbers are estimates from the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Facts and Figures 2009.

For more information, visit:

[1] American Cancer Society.  Cancer Facts & Figures 2009.  Atlanta: American Cancer Society, 2009.
[2] M. J.Horner, L. A. G. Ries, M. Krapcho, N. Neyman, R. Aminou, N. Howlader, S. F. Altekruse, E. J. Feuer, L. Huang, A. Mariotto, B. A. Miller, D. R. Lewis, M. P. Eisner, D. G. Stinchcomb, E. K. Edwards, eds. SEER Cancer Statistics Review 1975-2006. National Cancer Institute, 2009. http://seer.cancer.gov/csr/1975_2006.
[3] U.S. Cancer Statistics Working Group. United States Cancer Statistics: 1999–2005 Incidence and Mortality Web-based Report. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Cancer Institute, 2009. www.cdc.gov/uscs.
[4] Cancer Facts & Figures 2009.
[5] American Cancer Society, Detailed Guide: Ovarian Cancer. (accessed June 16, 2009).
[6] SEER Cancer Statistics Review 1975-2006.
[7] Cancer Facts & Figures 2009.
[8] SEER Cancer Statistics Review 1975-2006.
[9] Ibid.