Virginia Commonwealth University

VCU Massey Cancer Center

What is ovarian cancer?

Ovarian cancer is a disease in which malignant cells develop in an ovary. There are three types of ovarian cancer, named for the cells from which they arise. Benign tumors also may arise from all of these cell types. Sometimes surgery to remove a mass is required to determine if it is cancerous (malignant) or not (benign). The three types are:

  • Epithelial cell – cells that cover the surface of the ovary. Epithelial ovarian cancer accounts for 80 percent of ovarian cancer cases. This type most commonly affects women in their 60s.
  • Germ cell – cells that form the eggs in the ovary. Cancers of germ cells arise in young women (10 to 25 years of age) and account for 10 percent to 15 percent of ovarian cancers.
  • Stromal cell – cells that form the substance of the ovary and produce female hormones. These generally occur in women in their 50s and account for 5 percent to 10 percent of ovarian cancers.

What are the ovaries?

The ovaries are female reproductive organs located in the pelvis. There are two of them — one on each side of the uterus. The ovaries produce eggs and the female hormones estrogen and progesterone. Estrogen and progesterone control the development of female body characteristics (i.e., breasts, body shape and body hair) and regulate the menstrual cycle and pregnancy.