Ovarian cancer and cervical cancer are two types of cancer that can develop in individuals assigned female at birth. Both cancers affect the reproductive system, but they begin in different organs.
Because they both affect the reproductive system, ovarian and cervical cancers can cause some of the same symptoms.
However, ovarian cancer has several additional symptoms that are uncommon in cervical cancer. These conditions also have different causes and risk factors. Because it is often discovered earlier, before it spreads, cervical cancer tends to have a more favorable outlook than ovarian cancer.
Below, we’ll summarize the similarities and differences between ovarian and cervical cancer. Then, we’ll break down each type of cancer in a little more detail. Keep reading to discover more.
Ovarian cancer begins in the ovaries or the fallopian tubes, which are located on either side of the uterus. The ovaries are responsible for producing both reproductive hormones and the eggs used for reproduction.
Cervical cancer begins in the cervix, which is the tight passageway between the uterus and the vagina.
The ovaries and cervix are connected in many ways, but the symptoms and causes of each type of cancer can differ.
Ovarian and cervical cancers don’t typically cause significant symptoms until they’ve begun to spread into surrounding tissue. In the early stages of these cancers, many people don’t notice any symptoms at all.
But ovarian and cervical cancers do have a few symptoms in common. These can include:
- bleeding between periods
- periods that are heavier or longer than usual
- bleeding after menopause
- unusual vaginal discharge
- pelvic pain or pressure
- pain during sex
The cause of ovarian cancer is still unknown, although there are several factors that can increase your risk of developing the condition. Cervical cancer, on the other hand, is primarily caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) infections.
There are no screening tests for ovarian cancer.
Both types of cancer require biopsies to make a diagnosis. A biopsy is when a doctor takes a small sample of tissue that a pathologist can examine under a microscope.
Further, similar types of imaging technology can be used in diagnosing both cancers, including:
- computer tomography (CT) scan
- magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan
- positron emission tomography (PET) scan
Treatment and outlook
Between the two cancers, ovarian cancer has less favorable outlook. This is because it’s often not found until it has reached more advanced stages. However, when caught early, ovarian cancer has a
Screening tests can help detect and treat cervical cancer early on. Additionally, it’s now a very preventable cancer. The HPV vaccine can help prevent most cervical cancers.
Ovarian cancer begins in the ovaries and fallopian tubes. Keep reading to learn more about what distinguishes ovarian cancer from cervical cancer.
The ACS reports that ovarian cancer is the
The Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) database of the National Cancer Institute estimates that there will be
The most common symptoms of ovarian cancer are:
- abdominal bloating
- pain in your pelvis or abdomen
- feeling full very quickly after eating
- frequent or urgent urination
Other potential symptoms of ovarian cancer include:
- atypical vaginal bleeding, such as:
- periods that are noticeably heavier or irregular
- vaginal bleeding between periods
- vaginal bleeding after menopause
- pain during sex
- back pain
- unintentional weight loss
It’s unknown exactly what causes ovarian cancer. However, we do know several factors that can increase a person’s risk of developing ovarian cancer. These include:
- being at an older age
- having a personal history of breast cancer
- having a family history of certain cancers, especially at younger ages, including:
- ovarian cancer
- breast cancer
- having inherited genetic changes that increase cancer risk, such as changes in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes
- having endometriosis
- having overweight or obesity
- taking hormone replacement therapy after menopause
- using in vitro fertilization
- not having children or having children later in life
- not breastfeeding
There are currently no screening tests available for ovarian cancer. If you have concerning symptoms that are consistent with ovarian cancer, talk with a doctor. They will perform a physical exam that will include a pelvic exam.
If, based on the findings of these exams, they still suspect ovarian cancer, additional tests can be ordered to aid in diagnosis. These may include:
- Imaging tests to check for signs of cancer in the ovaries and other parts of the body, such as a transvaginal ultrasound, CT scan, MRI, or PET scan.
- Laparoscopy, a minimally invasive procedure in which a thin tool with a camera on the end (laparoscope) is inserted through a small incision and used to examine the abdomen for signs of cancer.
- A biopsy to examine tissue samples for the presence of cancer cells.
- Blood tests, including a complete blood count to look at levels of different blood cells, a metabolic panel to assess things like kidney and liver function, and tests for tumor markers, such as CA-125.
Cervical cancer is cancer that starts in the cervix. The SEER database estimates that
Many people with early stage cervical cancers do not have any symptoms. As the cancer continues to grow and spread, it can lead to symptoms like:
- vaginal bleeding, specifically:
- during your period, but much heavier than is typical
- between periods
- after menopause
- pain in your pelvis
- pain during sex
- vaginal discharge that contains blood or smells unpleasant
Other potential symptoms of cervical cancer include:
- difficulty urinating
- blood in your urine
- unintentional weight loss
- swelling in your legs
They also note that almost all cervical cancers can be prevented by receiving the HPV vaccine.
In fact, a 2020 study found that receiving the HPV vaccine prior to age 17 years led to an almost 90 percent reduction in cervical cancer.
Other risk factors for cervical cancer include:
- having a family history of cervical cancer
- having multiple sexual partners or first having sex at a younger age
- previously or currently having the sexually transmitted infection (STI) chlamydia
- using birth control pills for a long time
- having a weakened immune system, such as from taking immunosuppressive drugs or living with HIV or AIDS
There are screening tests available for cervical cancer. The current
Other options are also acceptable for this age group, including an
If your screening result comes back atypical, your doctor will want to conduct more tests. This can involve a procedure called a colposcopy, during which your doctor examines your cervix and may take a biopsy to test for the presence of cancer.
If a biopsy shows that cervical cancer is present, imaging tests are ordered to determine the extent of the cancer. These can include CT scans, MRIs, and X-rays.
Now let’s examine the treatment options and outlook for both ovarian cancer and cervical cancer.
Surgery is a main treatment option for ovarian cancer. The extensiveness of the surgery will depend on how far the cancer has spread.
Chemotherapy is also commonly used after surgery. If you cannot have surgery or do not wish to have surgery, it can also be used as an initial treatment. Targeted therapy can also be used for more advanced ovarian cancers.
Surgery is one of the main treatment options for cervical cancer. Similar to ovarian cancer, the extent of the surgery depends on how far the cancer has spread.
Other potential treatment options include external or internal radiation therapy. Chemotherapy may also be used, often in combination with radiation therapy. Targeted therapy and immunotherapy can also be used for advanced cervical cancer.
According to the SEER database, the 5-year relative survival rate for ovarian cancer between 2012 and 2018 was
- localized to the ovary: 93.1 percent
- spread to lymph nodes (regional): 74.2 percent
- metastasized to other tissues (distant): 30.8 percent
Based on information in the SEER database, the overall 5-year survival rate for cervical cancer between 2012 and 2018 was
- localized to the cervix: 91.8 percent
- spread to lymph nodes (regional): 59.4 percent
- metastasized to other tissues (distant): 17.1 percent
There are many similarities between ovarian cancer and cervical cancer. However, there are also important differences between these two cancers as well.
Overall, the outlook for both of these cancers is best when they’re diagnosed and treated early.
As such, never hesitate to see a doctor if you develop concerning symptoms like pelvic pain, atypical vaginal bleeding, or pain after sex.