Ovarian cancer varies widely in frequency among different geographic regions and ethnic groups, with a high incidence in Northern Europe and the United States, and a low incidence in Japan. The majority of cases are sporadic, and only 5% to 10% of ovarian cancers are familial. The etiology of ovarian cancer is poorly understood. Models of ovarian carcinogenesis include the theory of incessant ovulation, in which a person's age at ovulation, i.e., lifetime number of ovulatory cycles, is an index of her ovarian cancer risk. Excessive gonadotropin and androgen stimulation of the ovary have been postulated as contributing factors. Exposure of the ovaries to pelvic contaminants and carcinogens may play a role in the pathogenesis of ovarian cancer. Epidemiologic and molecular-genetic studies identify numerous risk and protective factors. The most significant risk factor is a family history of the disease. Recent advances in molecular genetics have found mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 tumor suppressor genes responsible for the majority of hereditary ovarian cancer. Additional risk factors include nulliparity and refractory infertility. Protective factors include multiparity, oral contraceptives, and tubal ligation or hysterectomy. With five years of oral contraceptive use, women can cut their risk of ovarian cancer approximately in half; this also holds true for individuals with a family history. Stage at diagnosis, maximum residual disease following cytoreductive surgery, and performance status are the three major prognostic factors. Using a multimodality approach to treatment, including aggressive cytoreductive surgery and combination chemotherapy, five-year survival rates are as follows: Stage I (93%), Stage II (70%), Stage III (37%), and Stage IV (25%). Semin. Surg. Oncol. 19:3–10, 2000. © 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc.