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  • Posted: 12/02/2013

A Snapshot of Ovarian Cancer

Incidence and Mortality

Ovarian cancer accounts for approximately 3 percent of all cancers in women and is the fifth leading cause of cancer-related death among women in the United States. More than 22,000 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the United States, and approximately 14,000 will die of the disease in 2013. The incidence rate has been declining since the late-1980s. Mortality rates decreased in the early 1990s and began declining again in the early 2000s. White women have higher incidence and mortality rates than women of other racial/ethnic groups.

Ovarian cancer has the highest mortality of all cancers of the female reproductive system. This reflects, in part, a lack of early symptoms and a lack of effective screening tests. Thus, ovarian cancer often is diagnosed at an advanced stage, after the cancer has spread beyond the ovary.

Risk factors for ovarian cancer include a family history of ovarian cancer, the presence of certain genetic mutations, including mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2, and having certain hereditary conditions. Women who are known to have an increased risk of ovarian cancer may consider surgery to remove the ovaries. Standard treatments for ovarian cancer include surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy.

It is estimated that approximately $5.1 billion1 is spent in the United States each year on ovarian cancer treatment.

Line graphs showing U.S. Ovarian Cancer Incidence and mortality per 100,000 Women, by race and ethnicity, between 1990-2010. In 2010, whites have the highest incidence, followed by American Indians/Alaska Natives, Hispanics, African Americans, and Asians/Pacific Islanders. In 2010, whites have the highest mortality, followed by American Indians/Alaska Natives, African Americans, Hispanics, and Asians/Pacific Islanders.

Examples of NCI Activities Relevant to Ovarian Cancer

  • The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) researchers are systematically identifying the major genomic changes involved in more than 20 cancers using state-of-the-art genomic analysis technologies. Pooling publically available data sets from 26 studies, researchers found that mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are associated with improved ovarian cancer survival five years after diagnosis. [PubMed Abstract]
  • The Specimen and Data Study for Ovarian Cancer Early Detection and Prevention is a clinical study that is examining screening methods to identify women at increased risk of ovarian cancer. The study also is identifying new prevention approaches and novel therapies.
  • NCI is currently supporting an extended follow-up of the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, and Ovarian Cancer (PLCO) Screening Trial, a large-scale clinical trial that examined whether specific cancer screening tests reduce deaths from these cancers. Researchers found that screening women for ovarian cancer with a blood test for the tumor marker CA-125 and transvaginal ultrasound did not reduce ovarian cancer mortality compared with usual care.
  • The Ovarian Cancer Epidemiology Consortia are five research consortia that conduct studies to identify genes that are related to the risk of ovarian cancer, potential new treatments, and methods to predict risk and prognosis.
  • The NCI Energy Balance Research Working Group focuses on the association between obesity and cancer. Data collected through one energy-balance-related initiative, the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study, has been used to examine the association of diet and the risk of ovarian cancer.
  • Four ovarian-cancer-specific Specialized Programs of Research Excellence (SPOREs) are working to develop early detection, screening, prevention, and therapeutic tools for ovarian cancer.

Selected Advances in Ovarian Cancer Research

Pie chart of NCI Ovarian Cancer Research Portfolio.  Percentage of total dollars by scientific area.  Fiscal year 2012.  Biology, 20%.  Etiology/causes of cancer, 10%.  Prevention, 3%.  Early detection, diagnosis, and prognosis, 19%.  Treatment, 31%.  Cancer control, survivorship, and outcomes research, 12%.  Scientific model systems, 5%.
  • A personalized two-step immunotherapy treatment tested in a phase I clinical trial elicited antitumor immune responses and clinical benefits in several patients with recurrent ovarian cancer. Published January 2013. [PubMed Abstract]
  • In a preclinical mouse model, treatment with a microRNA identified through genomic analyses of serous ovarian cancer cases reduced tumor growth, suggesting that it may be a candidate therapeutic intervention for advanced or metastatic ovarian cancer. Published February 2013. [PubMed Abstract]
  • A case-control study showed that exposure to acrylamide, a possible human carcinogen formed during the cooking of starchy foods, was not associated with increased risk of ovarian cancer. Published February 2013. [PubMed Abstract]
  • Researchers have identified a potential stem-cell-generating region in the mouse ovary that is responsible for regenerating the ovary surface and is prone to cancer formation. Published March 2013. [PubMed Abstract]
  • See this PubMed list of selected free full-text journal articles on NCI-supported research relevant to ovarian cancer. You can also search PubMed for additional scientific articles or to complete a search tutorial.

Trends in NCI Funding for Ovarian Cancer Research

The National Cancer Institute's (NCI) investment2 in ovarian cancer research increased from $100 million in fiscal year (FY) 2008 to $111.7 million in FY 2012. In addition to this funding, NCI supported $22 million in ovarian cancer research in FY 2009 and FY 2010 using funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

Bar graph of NCI Ovarian Cancer Research Investment in 2008-2012: Fiscal year (FY) 2008, $100.0 million Ovarian Cancer Funding of $4.83 billion Total NCI Budget. FY 2009, $110.1 million Ovarian Cancer Funding of $4.97 billion Total NCI Budget. FY 2010, $112.3 million Ovarian Cancer Funding of $5.10 billion Total NCI Budget.  FY 2011, $110.8 million Ovarian Cancer Funding of $5.06 billion Total NCI Budget.  FY 2012, $111.7 million Ovarian Cancer Funding of $5.07 billion Total NCI Budget.

Additional Resources for Ovarian Cancer

  • 1 Cancer Trends Progress Report, in 2010 dollars.
  • 2 The estimated NCI investment is based on funding associated with a broad range of peer-reviewed scientific activities. For additional information on research planning and budgeting at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), see About NIH.

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