A Snapshot of Ovarian Cancer

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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. In 2014, it is estimated that nearly 22,000 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the United States, and approximately 14,000 will die of the disease. Ovarian cancer incidence rates declined by nearly 1 percent annually from 1987 to 2011; mortality rates fell an average of 1.6 percent each year from 2001 to 2010. White women have higher incidence and mortality rates than women of other racial/ethnic groups.

Ovarian cancer causes more deaths than any other female reproductive system cancer. This high mortality rate 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 disease has spread beyond the ovary.

Risk factors for ovarian cancer include a family history of ovarian cancer; the presence of certain genetic mutations, such as mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2 and genes linked to hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (also known as Lynch syndrome); use of estrogen-only hormone replacement therapy; use of fertility drugs; use of talc; obesity; and tall height. Women who are known to have an increased risk of ovarian cancer due to genetic mutations but no signs of the disease may consider risk-reducing surgery to remove the ovaries and fallopian tubes. Standard treatments for ovarian cancer include surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.

Assuming that incidence and survival rates follow recent trends, it is estimated that $4.7 billion1 will be spent on ovarian cancer care in the United States in 2014.

Line graphs showing U.S. Ovarian Cancer Incidence and mortality per 100,000 Women, by race and ethnicity from 1991-2011.  In 2011, whites have the highest incidence, followed by Hispanics, American Indians/Alaska Natives, African Americans, and Asians/Pacific Islanders. In 2011, whites have the highest mortality, followed by African Americans, American Indians/Alaska Natives,  Hispanics, and Asians/Pacific Islanders.

Source: Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program and the National Center for Health Statistics. Additional statistics and charts are available at the SEER Web site.

NCI’s Investment in Ovarian Cancer Research

To learn more about the research NCI conducts and supports in ovarian cancer, visit the NCI Funded Research Portfolio (NFRP). The NFRP includes information about research grants, contract awards, and intramural research projects funded by NCI. When exploring this information, it should be noted that approximately half of the NCI budget supports basic research that may not be specific to one type of cancer. By its nature, basic research cuts across many disease areas, contributing to our knowledge of the underlying biology of cancer and enabling the research community to make advances against many cancer types. For these reasons, the funding levels reported in NFRP may not definitively report all research relevant to a given category.

Pie chart of NCI Ovarian Cancer Research Portfolio.  Percentage of total dollars by scientific area.  Fiscal year 2013.  Biology, 21%.  Etiology/causes of cancer, 9%.  Prevention, 4%.  Early detection, diagnosis, and prognosis, 20%.  Treatment, 31%.  Cancer control, survivorship, and outcomes research, 11%.  Scientific model systems, 4%.

Source: NCI Funded Research Portfolio. Only projects with assigned common scientific outline area codes are included. A description of relevant research projects can be found on the NCI Funded Research Portfolio Web site.

Other NCI programs and activities relevant to ovarian cancer include:

Selected Advances in Ovarian Cancer Research

  • In a study of postmenopausal women who were at moderate risk of ovarian cancer, high positive predictive value was obtained using a two-stage screening strategy. The first stage involved the use of the Risk of Ovarian Cancer Algorithm (ROCA), a mathematical model that calculates the risk of ovarian cancer based on a woman’s age and changes in her level of the CA-125 antigen over time. The second stage involved follow-up with women classified by ROCA as being at high risk of ovarian cancer.
  • Among women evaluated for infertility, there was no association of ovarian cancer risk with having ever used the ovulation-inducing drugs clomiphene citrate (CC) or gonadotropins, except in women who had used CC and never became pregnant. Published September 2013. [PubMed Abstract]
  • In a genomic analysis of tumors from 429 women with ovarian cancer, most of whom had no family history of the disease, 20 percent of the tumors had inherited mutations in genes that have been linked to inherited breast and ovarian cancers, and 37 percent had either inherited or acquired mutations in the Fanconi anemia pathway. Published January 2014. [PubMed Abstract]
  • An analysis of pooled data from 12 case-control studies found that women who took aspirin regularly had a 20-34 percent lower risk of ovarian cancer than those who did not, with the greatest risk reduction in women who took aspirin daily and who took low-dose aspirin. Published February 2014. [PubMed Abstract]

Additional Resources for Ovarian Cancer

  • Posted: November 5, 2014