Ovarian cancer is rare — just 12 out of every 100,000 women are diagnosed with the disease each year. While the median age is 63, young women also can be affected, especially if they have an inherited susceptibility to develop cancer or if they develop a borderline tumor.

The term ovarian cancer applies to three related cancers based on the probable site of origin: fallopian tube, peritoneal (the lining of the abdominal cavity) and ovary. The signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer are subtle and nonspecific. In many cases, symptoms go unnoticed until the disease has spread. 

Symptoms may include:

  • Bladder pressure, frequent urination 
  • Difficulty eating; feeling full 
  • Fatigue
  • Gas, bloating or bowel changes that include constipation and diarrhea
  • Persistent pelvic, abdominal or back pain
  • Swelling in the abdomen
  • Weight loss
  • Leg swelling

Diagnosis of ovarian cancer often begins with a pelvic exam, blood tests and a transvaginal ultrasound, an imaging procedure used to detect tumors in the ovaries. Often at CT scan follows to evaluate the entire abdominal cavity. If cancer is suspected, a surgical biopsy of the tumor or surgery to remove or “debulk” the tumor is often necessary. Our pathologists — nationally known experts in gynecologic pathology — examine biopsied tumor cells under high-resolution microscopes to determine the correct diagnosis, which will then guide treatment.

Advanced Imaging

Additional imaging tests may be recommended to determine spread of the disease. Advanced imaging capabilities at the University of Chicago Medicine include:

  • Diffusion-weighted magnetic resonance imaging (DWI)
  • Computed tomography (CT)
  • Interventional radiology (image-directed biopsies and procedures).
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) 
  • Positron emission tomography (PET)

Expert radiologists with extensive experience in reading these imaging studies confer with the gynecologic oncology team at our weekly multidisciplinary tumor board conference to determine if surgery or chemotherapy are best initially.

Before Treatment 

Before beginning treatment, each patient is walked through the assessment process by a coordinator who assists patients with the following:

  • Obtaining important records, especially laboratory results, X-ray and imaging scans and pathology slides
  • Coordinating studies and result notification 
  • Coordinating surgery
  • Assessing eligibility for clinical trials
  • Gathering information and education
  • Communicating with referring physicians
  • Obtaining psychosocial and emotional support
  • Coordinating translation services
  • Providing expert referrals to other services, such as surgical oncology, urology and plastic surgery

The most important part of your visit to UChicago Medicine is your interaction with our team. We will take the time to meet with you and your family to discuss together the next steps in your treatment. Because we believe that close communication among all caregivers is essential to successful treatment, we collaborate closely with your primary and referring physicians throughout your treatment.