What Are the Different Types of Ovarian Cancer?

“Ovarian cancer” is an umbrella term for several different types of cancers that start in the ovaries. Each one is different from the next.
Updated on September 22, 2023
ovarian cancer

When you first learn you have ovarian cancer, you may be surprised to hear that the story of your diagnosis doesn’t stop there. It isn’t a “positive” or “negative” result. Rather, your doctor will likely describe what type of ovarian cancer you have.

“Ovarian cancer” is an umbrella term for several different types of cancers that start in the ovaries. Each one is different from the next, varying in how it develops, the symptoms it presents, how it’s treated, and more. That makes ovarian cancer, in general, a very complex disease.

Despite its complexities, it’s important to understand your specific type of ovarian cancer so you can better cope with the situation and have an idea of what to expect moving forward. So, let’s explore the different primary types of ovarian cancer, including common symptoms, prognoses, and treatment options.

Epithelial Ovarian Cancer

Epithelial ovarian cancer (EOC) is the most common type. It’s thought to start in the cells that cover the outer surface of the ovaries, although recent research suggests that the initial cause may actually be epithelial cells in the fallopian tubes.

This variety of ovarian cancer further divides into several subtypes:

a.    Serous carcinoma

This is the most prevalent. The Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance reports that this type of EOC accounts for 75% of all ovarian cancers. Symptoms are subtle, so it’s often diagnosed in the later stages. You may feel bloated, have pelvic or abdominal pain, difficulty eating or maintaining appetite, and an urgent or frequent need to pee.

“Serous” refers to the membrane where the cancerous cells develop, and when the prefix “High Grade” is added, this means that the cancer has been diagnosed at Grade 3 or higher.

b.    Mucinous (endocervical epithelium)

Accounting for around 3% of ovarian cancer cases, this type of EOC mostly affects women under 40. The resulting tumor can is often benign, although larger compared to other types of EOC.

The larger tumor means symptoms tend to be noticed sooner, so the majority (80%) of cases are detected and diagnosed in early stages. They can be treated with surgery, without the need for chemotherapy.

Because this type of EOC often affects just one ovary, you shouldn’t have to worry about fertility issues down the road after surgery.

c.    Endometrioid (proliferative endometrium)

Unlike mucinous epithelial ovarian cancers, endometrioid EOC can be malignant and invasive. It presents subtly as non-specific masses on scans, often occurring alongside general endometriosis, a condition where tissues normally found inside the womb develop elsewhere in the reproductive system. While aggressive, this type of EOC has a high survival rate of around 80%

Endometrioid is the second most common kind of epithelial ovarian cancer, occurring in between 10% and 15% of all ovarian cancer patients. It most commonly affects women with an average age of 50. Symptoms may include abnormal vaginal bleeding (outside menstrual norms), painful or difficult urination, post-menopausal bleeding, and pain in the pelvic area.

d.    Clear Cell (gestational endometrium)

Clear cells are the glycogen-rich deposits that generally make up the tumor associated with this type of EOC. Symptoms include abdominal lumps, pain, or discomfort. Often, the tumor marker CA125 is not present, making it hard to detect with a blood test.

Clear cell EOC is often diagnosed early in younger women and can occur alongside deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism (a blood clot in the lung). Often, women see their doctors for these related conditions and end up with their cancer diagnosis.

Compared to other types, clear cell is rare, affecting around 5-10% of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the west, but up to 25% in East Asia (China, Korea, Japan, and Mongolia). Women with a family history of clear cell EOC or Lynch Syndrome may be at higher risk. It can also develop from a different type of benign ovarian tumor called an adenofibroma.

Women with clear cell will typically undergo surgery to remove their tumor. Chemotherapy is often prescribed to prevent them from growing back. That said, chemotherapy is less effective with this type of ovarian cancer than with other varieties.

For this reason, research is underway to find alternative treatment options, including radiation therapy or intraperitoneal chemotherapy (delivered direct to the abdomen), that may be more successful.

These four primary variants of epithelial ovarian cancer make up the vast majority of ovarian cancer cases (over 90%).

Treatment generally involves surgery to remove as much of the cancer as possible, followed by chemotherapy. The prognosis for epithelial ovarian cancer varies, but early detection significantly improves outcomes.

Germ Cell Ovarian Cancer

Germ cell ovarian cancer, which forms in the cells that produce eggs, is far less common. According to the American Cancer Society, germ cell ovarian cancers make up just 2-3% of all ovarian cancers. It typically affects younger women and has a good prognosis. In fact, over 90% of cases are curable.

Most germ cell tumors are benign (not cancerous), so they’re less concerning. Still, they can be removed if they cause discomfort. When deciding whether to have a benign germ cell ovarian cancer tumor removed, keep in mind they can become cancerous later. This is rare, but be sure to talk with your doctor about the possibility.

Symptoms of germ cell ovarian cancer include pelvic or ovarian pain, cramping, or tenderness. You may also feel a sensation of pressure as the tumor grows.

There are several subtypes of germ cell ovarian cancer, including teratomas, dysgerminomas, and endodermal sinus tumors. They’re highly sensitive to chemotherapy, with three or more cycles of treatment, depending on how you and your doctor decide to approach it.

Together with your doctor, you may decide on a less toxic combination of drugs with less severe side effects. However, if the tumor doesn’t respond well to treatment or returns later, a more aggressive drug combination may be needed.

Often, surgically removing the affected ovary is enough to wipe out the cancer without needing to worry about fertility issues. When both ovaries are affected and must be removed, it may still be possible to retain the uterus. This can keep the door open for pregnancy via in-vitro fertilization (IVF).

Even when a tumor is removed, it’s essential to be consistent with follow-up appointments in case the cancer grows back. Early-stage germ cell ovarian cancers can often be detected

Stromal Cell Ovarian Cancer

Stromal cell ovarian cancer arises from the cells that produce female hormones and hold the ovarian tissues together. Granulosa cell tumors are the most common type. Stromal cell tumors are sometimes called sex cord stromal tumors because they arise in the sex cords, the tissues that support the ovary. This rare type of ovarian cancer accounts for around 1% of all ovarian cancer cases.

Common symptoms include persistent stomach or abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, or a frequent need to pee. Due to the hormonal effects these tumors produce, you may experience changes to menstrual cycles, including irregular or heavy bleeding, breast tenderness, or vaginal bleeding in post-menopausal patients.

Stromal tumors are often diagnosed at an early stage, which, combined with their slow growth, leads to a generally favorable prognosis. Surgery is the primary treatment, often followed by chemotherapy or hormone therapy for advanced stages.

Follow-up care will involve blood tests to check the levels of key cancer markers. Stick to a regular follow-up routine, as this will allow the early identification of any recurrence.

Small Cell Carcinoma of the Ovary

Small cell carcinoma of the ovary, or hypercalcemic type (SCCOHT), is a rare, highly aggressive cancer that mostly affects young women. The average age of patients who are diagnosed with this condition is 24. It is exceptionally rare, occurring in less than 0.1% of all ovarian cancer cases. In fact, the largest cohort ever studied (in 2016) could only identify 293 patients.

The rarity of this condition has made it difficult to research. What we do is that around two-thirds of women with SCCOHT are hypercalcemic, meaning that they have unusually high calcium levels in their blood.

Symptoms are few and generic – a feeling of abdominal discomfort or bloating has been reported, but many patients diagnosed with this condition have no symptoms at all. This makes it hard to detect in its early stages. Because it’s so rare and aggressive, SCCOHT is challenging to treat. It often calls for a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.

Unfortunately, the prognosis for this type of cancer tends to be poor, with around a 30% survival rate. However, ongoing research is underway to develop more effective treatments. Researchers are looking at ways to starve this type of tumor of one of the nutrients (arginine) it needs to develop. The research is in pre-clinical experimental stage, but clinical trials of any resultant treatments should follow.

Preventative Measures and Recovery Tips for Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer is a major health concern for women, especially because it’s hard to detect in its early stages. But there are ways to arm yourself against it, starting with understanding the factors that put you at a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer.

Age, family history, genetic mutations, and whether you have ever been pregnant all play a role. You can’t change these things, of course, but there are some lifestyle choices that can potentially reduce your risk.

For instance, maintaining a healthy weight, eating a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and regular physical activity can help. Some studies also suggest that taking oral contraceptives can reduce the risk of ovarian cancer.

Next, pay attention to the early warning signs of ovarian cancer, which can be subtle. These may include bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, difficulty eating, or feeling full quickly. If these symptoms persist for more than a couple of weeks, get in touch with your doctor as soon as possible. Once you’ve been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, it’s not the end. It’s the start of a battle, which you can come prepared to with healthy lifestyle choices and plenty of knowledge.


Recovery and treatment depend on a few things, like the stage of cancer, your overall health, and your personal preferences. Chemotherapy and surgery are the most common treatments for ovarian cancer.

No matter what treatment path you and your doctor decide on, maintain a balanced diet, stay hydrated, and get plenty of rest. Your recovery depends on keeping your body strong because you’ll need  ample energy and nutrients to fight and heal.

After treatment, follow-up care is vital. Regular check-ups can help ensure the cancer has not returned or catch it early if it does. Physical rehabilitation may be needed to improve strength and fitness levels.

Join the Many to Support Your Mental Health

Don’t neglect your mental health either. Emotional support is so important. It’s essential to stay positive and keep stress levels in check, and that’s much easier if you have a support network at your back.

You may benefit from joining a support group or seeking professional one-to-one counseling to help you manage your emotions. Join the Many to find community with others affected by ovarian cancer, and be sure to access our resource center to find additional help.

Every woman’s experience with ovarian cancer is unique, so an individualized approach to prevention and recovery is key. Remember, with the right knowledge and support, you can come out stronger from this ordeal. Talk with your doctor to decide on treatment and recovery plans that make the most sense for you.

Baby Talcum Powder and Ovarian Cancer

After an ovarian cancer diagnosis, you may wonder how you ended up in this position, especially if common risk factors don’t seem to apply to you. If that’s the case, you may need to consider outside factors—like dangerous or defective household products.

In recent years, there’s been a growing concern about the potential association between baby talcum powder and ovarian cancer. Some studies suggest that regular application of talcum powder in the genital area could increase the risk of developing ovarian cancer. It’s a shocking revelation. Now, those impacted are fighting back.

Thousands of lawsuits against manufacturers, primarily Johnson & Johnson, claim they didn’t inform consumers about the potential risks associated with their products. These companies have a duty to protect their customers and they have failed.

If you or a loved one has developed ovarian cancer and suspect it might be related to the use of talcum powder, Join the Many. We can help you make sense of your situation and connect you with the best legal care available. You’ll also have access to our health and financial resources to help you along the way.

Ovarian cancer is a terrible disease, but you don’t have to fight it—or those responsible for your diagnosis—alone. Contact us for a free case review to learn if you may qualify for a settlement.

Join the Many is here to provide a free, no obligation case review to determine if you may be eligible for a settlement. If you are, we’ll carefully match you with the best attorney for your case. There are no legal fees unless you win compensation. Contact us today to get started.

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