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Ovarian tumors

Overview of ovarian tumors

Ovarian tumors are abnormal growths on the ovaries, the female reproductive organs that produce eggs. Ovarian tumors can be noncancerous (benign) or cancerous (malignant).

Many things can make you more likely to develop an ovarian tumor. Our team at Dignity Health will walk you through your initial exam, diagnosis, and any necessary treatments. Find a Doctor today to discuss ovarian tumors.


Symptoms of both benign and malignant ovarian tumors may include:

  • Stomach bloating
  • Increased belly size
  • Stomach or pelvic pain
  • Constipation
  • Either difficulty urinating or urinating frequently
  • Feeling full more quickly than usual when eating
  • Painful cramps during menstruation
  • Lower back pain
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Pain during sex
  • Vaginal bleeding after menopause

Because the ovaries are located deep in the body, you may not experience any signs or symptoms of an ovarian tumor until it is relatively large. See your doctor as soon as possible if you notice any unusual symptoms.


The growth of abnormal cells causes ovarian tumors. Researchers and scientists are still working to understand the causes behind the growth of these cells.


There are two broad categories of ovarian tumors:

  • Benign – This is an abnormal mass of tissue that grows slowly on the surface of or inside the ovary. If left untreated, it can develop into a malignant tumor.
  • Malignant – This is an abnormal mass of tissue that is made up of cancerous cells.

These categories can be further divided into three different types, for both benign and malignant tumors:

  • Surface epithelial tumors – This is the most common type, developing in the cells that line the ovary surface. They are more common in women over 50.
  • Stromal tumors – This type develops in the area of the ovary that produces reproductive hormones. It is rarely malignant, and when it is, it is considered a low-grade cancer.
  • Germ cell tumors – This develops in the cells that become eggs, most often in younger women. Most are benign, but can develop into cancer.

If an ovarian tumor is found to be malignant, the stage of the cancer will be determined. There are four stages:

  • Stage I – The cancer exists only in the ovaries.
  • Stage II – The cancer has spread outside the ovaries but is still contained within the pelvis.
  • Stage III – The cancer has spread beyond the ovaries and the pelvis or into the lymph nodes.
  • Stage IV – The cancer has spread to organs outside the pelvis, such as the liver or lungs.

Risk factors

Some factors may make you more likely to develop ovarian tumors, such as:

  • Age – Ovarian cancer rates are highest in women ages 55–64.
  • Family history – If women in the family have had them, particularly a mother or a sister, the risk is higher.
  • Genetic mutations – Mutations of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes significantly increase a woman’s risk of ovarian cancer.
  • Obesity If you have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher, you may be at increased risk of ovarian cancer.
  • First pregnancy after age 35 – Women who have never conceived and carried a pregnancy or have done so after 35 may have increased risk.
  • Fertility drugs and hormone treatments – The continuous use of estrogen after menopause can place a woman at additional risk.


Without knowing the reason that ovarian tumors form, there is no way to know how to prevent them. However, there are steps you can take to lower your risk:

  • Eating a healthy diet full of whole, fresh foods, and limiting the consumption of processed and refined foods
  • Getting plenty of exercise to keep your body strong and fit
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Stopping smoking
  • Taking birth control pills, which may lower your risk of ovarian cancer

The information contained in this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace advice from your healthcare provider.