Ovarian cancer is a form of cancer that affects the ovaries. Although older females are more likely to develop ovarian cancer, younger females can have it too.

According to the American Cancer Society, females in the United States have a 1 in 78 chance of developing ovarian cancer. It notes that ovarian cancer generally affects older females. However, it is possible for a female to develop ovarian cancer at any age.

Read on to learn more about ovarian cancer in young females, as well as its causes, symptoms, and treatments.

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Cancer develops due to the growth of abnormal cells in areas of a person’s body. A person can develop cancer in most areas of their body.

There are certain risk factors for developing ovarian cancer, including:

  • being middle-aged or older
  • having a close family member with ovarian cancer
  • having certain genetic mutations
  • having had breast, uterine, or colon cancer
  • having endometriosis
  • being of Eastern European or Ashkenazi Jewish background
  • having never given birth
  • having had trouble becoming pregnant

Learn about cysts and ovarian cancer here.

According to the Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance (OCRA), ovarian cancer is rare in people under 40 years old. However, people under 40 can still develop ovarian cancer.

A person who is younger than 40 years old may be at higher risk of developing ovarian cancer if they:

  • have breast cancer before the age of 40
  • have a family history of breast, colon, ovarian, uterine, or rectal cancer developing before the age of 50
  • are of Eastern European or Ashkenazi Jewish background
  • have endometriosis
  • started menstruating early
  • had their first full-term pregnancy after 35
  • never carried a pregnancy to full-term

Although ovarian cancer is rare in young females, there are certain forms that are more common than others.

Germ cell tumors

Germ cell tumors are more likely to occur in younger females than older females. Germ cell tumors generally only affect one ovary.

Germ cell tumors are a rare form of ovarian cancer. The majority of germ cell tumors are benign, which means they do not spread. However, some germ cell tumors can be life-threatening.

There are various types of germ cell tumor, including:

Teratomas

A teratoma is a tumor that can contain different types of benign tissue. There are two forms of teratoma that a person can develop.

Mature teratomas usually develop in females of reproductive age. Reproductive age for females is generally from teenage years to 40s. Mature teratomas can contain tissue such as bone, hair, or teeth.

Immature teratomas are a rarer form of teratoma. Immature teratomas usually occur in females under 18 years old. An immature teratoma can have cells that appear to be embryonic or fetal. These tissues can include respiratory passages, connective tissue, or the brain.

Dysgerminomas

Dysgerminomas are a rare form of germ cell cancer that generally affects females in their teens or 20s. Dysgerminomas do not grow quickly but are considered to be malignant. A malignant cancer is one that spreads to other tissues.

Endodermal sinus tumor (yolk sac tumor) and choriocarcinoma

Endodermal sinus tumor (yolk sac tumor) and choriocarcinoma are two other rare forms of ovarian cancer. Both of these germ cell tumors usually affect young females.

Epithelial tumors

An epithelial tumor is one that develops on the outer surface of the ovaries. The majority of ovarian tumors are epithelial tumors.

Epithelial tumors can be benign, borderline, or malignant. A borderline tumor is one that has a small chance of developing into a malignant tumor.

Research from 2017 found that in women aged 40 and below, 72% of ovarian cancers were epithelial tumors.

Ovarian stromal tumors

Ovarian stromal tumors are a rare form of ovarian cancer. The American Cancer Society states that around 5% of ovarian stromal tumors occur in young females.

Ovarian stromal tumors can produce the hormone estrogen. The production of estrogen can cause young females to menstruate or develop breasts before puberty.

Ovarian cancer can cause a person to experience the following symptoms:

If a person has any of the symptoms of ovarian cancer for longer than two weeks, they should see a doctor.

Learn about the early and advanced symptoms of ovarian cancer here.

The type of treatment a person has may depend on the form of ovarian cancer they have. Treatment options may also change depending on what stage of cancer a person has.

Treatments for ovarian cancer include:

Surgery

A person may require surgery to remove ovarian tumors. Depending on the size of the tumor and how it has spread, a person may need:

  • a hysterectomy
  • removal of one ovary
  • removal of both ovaries
  • removal of affected lymph nodes
  • removal of the fallopian tubes

Learn about ovary removal surgery here.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy uses drugs to stop cancer cells from growing. Chemotherapy may kill cancer cells or prevent them from dividing.

A person can take chemotherapy drugs orally or doctors can inject them into a person’s veins or through a catheter into the abdominal cavity. Chemotherapy drugs can affect a person’s entire body, but regional chemotherapy involves delivering drugs to specific parts of a person’s body. This form of chemotherapy mainly affects the cancer cells in that one area.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy uses X-rays to destroy cancer cells or prevent their growth. One form of radiation therapy involves inserting radioactive liquid directly into a person’s abdomen. This form of radiation therapy may be useful for treating advanced ovarian cancer.

Targeted therapy

Targeted therapy treatments aim to attack specific cancer cells. Targeted therapies generally are less harmful than chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy can strengthen a person’s immune system to help it fight the cancer. A form of immunotherapy, called vaccine therapy, uses certain substances that trigger the immune system to seek out tumors and destroy them.

Learn the difference between immunotherapy and chemotherapy here.

Ovarian cancer, and its treatments, can affect a person’s fertility.

Tumors from ovarian cancer may press against a person’s uterus, affecting its function.

Hysterectomies and the removal of both ovaries will lead to a person being unable to conceive.

Radiation therapy can damage a person’s reproductive system, which may lead to fertility issues. Chemotherapy kills cells that divide quickly, which certain ovarian cells do. This can lead to them becoming affected by chemotherapy, and possibly harming fertility.

Having ovarian cancer at a young age can affect a person in different areas of life, such as:

  • Work or school: A person with a cancer diagnosis may find that their ability to concentrate at work or school is affected. If a person has worries about their work or school life, they should speak to their boss or student advisor. They may be able to help plan a way to meet goals while still making treatment a priority.
  • Family: It can be difficult to tell family members about a cancer diagnosis. However, having family support can be helpful when dealing with ovarian cancer.
  • Social life: A young person with ovarian cancer may feel that their friends treat them differently. Additionally, a person with cancer may have to miss out on certain events due to treatments. Being open about how they feel can help a person with cancer reconnect with their friends.
  • Dating and intimacy: A person with ovarian cancer may find dating difficult due to changes in their body. Intimacy can also be hard for a person with ovarian cancer. Treatments can cause fatigue or nausea, possible hormone changes can affect libido, and any surgery or radiation can affect the structure of the vagina. Speaking with a healthcare professional may help a person resolve any dating or intimacy worries.
  • Finances: Cancer treatment can vary in price based on a person’s insurance and the type of treatment. If a person is worried about healthcare bills, they can discuss payment plans with their doctor, a social worker, or a hospital’s financial counselor. Additionally, there are services that can help with costs of treatment if they become too expensive.

See a list of available mental health resources a person may find useful here.

Although rare, ovarian cancer can affect young females. Various risk factors can affect the development of ovarian cancer in young females, such as having endometriosis. Certain ovarian cancers are more common in younger females, such as germ cell ovarian cancer.

Various treatment options are available for a person with ovarian cancer. A person should speak to their doctor about which one is right for them.

Ovarian cancer, and its treatments, can cause a person to become infertile. A person should speak to their doctor about how their ovarian cancer may affect their fertility.

A person may find that ovarian cancer affects other areas of their life, such as work or family life. If a person finds they are struggling, they should speak with a healthcare professional.