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Ovarian, Fallopian Tube, and Primary Peritoneal Cancer Prevention (PDQ®)

Patient Version

General Information About Ovarian, Fallopian Tube, and Primary Peritoneal Cancer

Ovarian, fallopian tube, and primary peritoneal cancers are diseases in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the ovaries, fallopian tubes, or peritoneum.

The ovaries are a pair of organs in the female reproductive system. They are in the pelvis, one on each side of the uterus (the hollow, pear-shaped organ where a fetus grows). Each ovary is about the size and shape of an almond. The ovaries make eggs and female hormones (chemicals that control the way certain cells or organs work in the body).

The fallopian tubes are a pair of long, slender tubes, one on each side of the uterus. Eggs pass from the ovaries, through the fallopian tubes, to the uterus. Cancer sometimes begins at the end of the fallopian tube near the ovary and spreads to the ovary.

The peritoneum is the tissue that lines the abdominal wall and covers organs in the abdomen. Primary peritoneal cancer is cancer that forms in the peritoneum and has not spread there from another part of the body. Cancer sometimes begins in the peritoneum and spreads to the ovary.

Anatomy of the female reproductive system; drawing shows the uterus, myometrium (muscular outer layer of the uterus), endometrium (inner lining of the uterus), ovaries, fallopian tubes, cervix, and vagina.
Anatomy of the female reproductive system. The organs in the female reproductive system include the uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes, cervix, and vagina. The uterus has a muscular outer layer called the myometrium and an inner lining called the endometrium.

Ovarian cancer is the leading cause of death from cancer of the female reproductive system.

In recent years, there has been a small decrease in the number of new cases of ovarian cancer and the number of deaths from ovarian cancer. New cases of ovarian cancer and deaths from ovarian cancer are higher among white women than black women, but have decreased in both groups.

Women who have a family history of ovarian cancer and/or certain inherited gene changes, such as BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene changes, have a higher risk than women who do not have a family history or who have not inherited these gene changes. For women with inherited risk, genetic counseling and genetic testing can be used to find out more about how likely they are to develop ovarian cancer.

It is hard to find ovarian cancer early. Early ovarian cancer may not cause any symptoms. When symptoms do appear, ovarian cancer is often advanced.

See the following PDQ summaries for more information about ovarian, fallopian tube, and primary peritoneal cancers:

  • Updated: March 27, 2015