Epithelial ovarian cancer is the most lethal of the gynecologic malignancies, largely due to the advanced stage at diagnosis in most patients. Screening strategies using ultrasound and the cancer antigen (CA) 125 tumor marker are currently under study and may lower stage at diagnosis but have not yet been shown to improve survival. Women who have inherited a deleterious mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene and those with the Lynch syndrome (hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer) have the highest risk of developing ovarian cancer but account for only approximately 10% of those with the disease. Other less common and less well-defined genetic syndromes may increase the risk of ovarian cancer, but their contribution to genetic risk is small. A clear etiology for sporadic ovarian cancer has not been identified, but risk is affected by reproductive and hormonal factors. Surgery has a unique role in ovarian cancer, as it is used not only for diagnosis and staging but also therapeutically, even in patients with widely disseminated, advanced disease. Ovarian cancer is highly sensitive to chemotherapy drugs, particularly the platinum agents, and most patients will attain a remission with initial treatment. Recent advances in the delivery of chemotherapy using the intraperitoneal route have further improved survival after initial therapy. Although the majority of ovarian cancer patients will respond to initial chemotherapy, most will ultimately develop disease recurrence. Chemotherapy for recurrent disease includes platinum-based, multiagent regimens for women whose disease recurs more than 6 to 12 months after the completion of initial therapy and sequential single agents for those whose disease recurs earlier. New targeted biologic agents, particularly those involved with the vascular endothelial growth factor pathway and those targeting the poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase (PARP) enzyme, hold great promise for improving the outcome of ovarian cancer.
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