Ovarian cancer is a disease affecting the ovaries, the reproductive organs responsible for producing eggs and female hormones. Ovarian cancer is often difficult to detect, because the symptoms of ovarian cancer -- such as bloating and appetite changes -- are similar to those of other non-cancerous conditions. Plus, there is no effective screening test for the early detection of ovarian cancer. The pap smear tests for cervical cancer, not ovarian cancer.
When ovarian cancer is detected and treated early, the five-year survival rate is greater than 92 percent. But only 20 percent of ovarian cancer cases are caught before the cancer has spread. Most patients are diagnosed at advanced stages, when the disease is harder to treat. The good news is that today 50 percent of women are surviving more than five years after diagnosis--a marked improvement from 30 or more years ago, when the survival rate was 10 to 20 percent.
In spite of improvements in treatment, ovarian cancer is the leading cause of death from gynecologic cancers in the United States, and is the fifth leading cause of cancer death among American women. The National Cancer Institute estimates 21,850 U.S. women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2010, and about 13,580 women will die from the disease.