Magnetic resonance imaging may aid ovarian cancer patients

Roughly 22,530 women are expected to receive a new diagnosis of ovarian cancer in 2019.1 So, people may wish to become more informed on what is associated with the disease and its assessment. A number of different medical imaging and laboratory tests. In particular, MRI may be helpful for the understanding of the disease.

What is ovarian cancer?

Ovarian cancer is a type of cancer beginning in the ovaries.2 The cause of ovarian cancer is not known, but doctors have identified factors that can increase a patient's risk of contracting the disease. Ovarian cancer can manifest as epithelial, stromal or germ cell tumors. Each of these types affects different areas of the ovary.

  • Epithelial tumors begin in the layer of tissue covering the outside of the ovaries. Roughly 90% of ovarian cancers are epithelial.
  • Stromal tumors begin in the ovarian tissue that produces hormones. This type of cancer is typically diagnosed at an earlier stage than either epithelial or germ cell tumors. About 7% of ovarian tumors are stromal.
  • Germ cell tumors begin in the egg-producing cells and typically occur in younger women. However, this type of cancer is rare.

Unfortunately, ovarian cancer often remains undetected until the cancer has spread, making it more difficult to treat.2 Once a cancer has begun to spread to other organs or areas of the body, it is referred to as metastatic cancer. The cancer type is the same as the cancer in the origin point no matter where it spreads. So, ovarian cancer that has metastasized to throughout the pelvis is still ovarian cancer in the other areas of the pelvis. Surgery and chemotherapy remain the most commonly used treatments for ovarian cancer.

Risk factors for ovarian cancer include:2

  • Older age: Women between 50 and 60 years-of-age more commonly have ovarian cancer than women of other ages, though women in other age groups can also have ovarian cancer.
  • Inherited gene mutations: Mutated genes cause only a small portion of ovarian cancers. These genes are inherited from a parent. BRCA1 and BRCA2, breast cancer genes one and two, can cause ovarian cancer and increase the risk of breast cancer. Other mutations can also increase the risk of ovarian cancer.
  • Family history: Patients who have two or more close relatives with ovarian cancer are at an increased risk for the disease.
  • Estrogen replacement therapy: Long-term use of estrogen hormone replacements and large doses can increase the risk of ovarian cancer.
  • Age when menstruation started and ended: Women who began menstruating at an earlier age or who started menopause at a later age or both may increase the risk of the disease.

Symptoms of ovarian cancer include:2

  • Bloating or swelling of the abdomen
  • Feeling full when eating quicker than usual
  • Weight loss
  • Discomfort in the pelvic area
  • Changes in bowel habits
  • Frequent urination

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MRI for ovarian cancer

A wide range of medical imaging exams may be used to monitor and assess patients with ovarian cancer, including ultrasound, computed tomography (CT), positron emission tomography (PET) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). MRI is typically used to image ovarian masses after ultrasound. This is because MRI may provide more detail of tissue characterization in certain cases.3,4

MRI is particularly accurate in determining benign lesions, including endometriomas, origin of a mass and local invasion.3,4 As a result, MRI is typically used as a problem solving tool when assessing ovarian cancers. MRI creates detailed images of tissue structures inside a patient's body. As a result, MRI may help to characterize adnexal masses from cystic to complex to predominantly solid.

Magnetic resonance imaging provides insights into the types of lesions associated with ovarian cancer. From classification to localization, MRI may aid physicians in making treatment decisions for their patients. Since ovarian cancer affects women of all ages, a more thorough understanding of the disease and its progress will hopefully lead to more early diagnoses.


  1. Key Statistics for Ovarian Cancer. cancer.org Last accessed August 30, 2019.
  2. Ovarian cancer. MayoClinic.org Last accessed August 28, 2019.
  3. Imaging of ovarian cancer. AppliedRadiology.com Last accessed August 28, 2019.
  4. MR imaging of ovarian masses: classification and differential diagnosis. Insights Imaging Last accessed August 28, 2019.