Cancer of the ovary affects more than 6,500 women in the UK each year. It is the fifth most common cancer among women after breast cancer, bowel cancer, lung cancer and cancer of the uterus (womb).

Ovarian cancer is most common in women who have had the menopause (usually over the age of 50), but it can affect women of any age.

As the symptoms of ovarian cancer can be similar to those of other conditions, it can be difficult to recognise. However, there are early symptoms to look out for, such as persistent bloating, pain in the pelvis and lower stomach, and difficulty eating.

If you experience these symptoms, particularly over a long period of time, it is important to see your GP. Read more about how ovarian cancer is diagnosed.

Types of ovarian cancer

There are several types of ovarian cancer. They include:

  • epithelial ovarian cancer, which affects the surface layers of the ovary and is the most common type 
  • germ cell tumours, which originate in the cells that make the eggs
  • stromal tumours, which develop within the cells that hold the ovaries together

Epithelial ovarian cancer is by far the most common type of ovarian cancer. This information concentrates on epithelial ovarian cancer.

The exact cause of ovarian cancer is unknown, although a number of possible factors are thought to be involved, such as the number of eggs the ovaries release and whether someone in your family has had ovarian cancer in the past. However, only one in 10 cases of ovarian cancer has a genetic link.

Read more about the causes of ovarian cancer.

Treating ovarian cancer 

The best treatment for ovarian cancer depends on several things, such as the stage of your cancer and your general health. Treatment will usually involve a combination of surgery and chemotherapy.

As with most types of cancer, the outlook largely depends on how far the cancer has advanced by the time it is diagnosed and your age at diagnosis. Ninety per cent of women diagnosed with early stage one ovarian cancer will be alive in five years' time (the five-year survival rate).

Read more information about how ovarian cancer is treated.

Being diagnosed with ovarian cancer can affect daily life in many ways. However, there is support available for many aspects of living with ovarian cancer, including emotional, financial and long-term health issues.

Ovarian cancer screening

There are methods of screening for ovarian cancer but, at the moment, they are not yet fully tested. Screening is only available for women who are at high risk of developing the disease due to a strong family history or inheritance of a particular faulty gene. Clinical trials in the UK are currently assessing the effectiveness of screening in high-risk women and in the general population.

A cervical screening test (which used to be called a smear test) cannot detect ovarian cancer.

Read more information about preventing ovarian cancer.

Ovarian cancer

Andy Nordin, a gynaecological oncologist, explains the symptoms of ovarian cancer, who’s most at risk and the treatment options.

Media last reviewed: 21/02/2013

Next review due: 21/02/2015

The ovaries

The ovaries are a pair of small organs in the female reproductive system that contain and release an egg once a month. This is known as ovulation.

Cancer of the ovary can spread to other parts of the reproductive system and the surrounding areas, including the womb (uterus), vagina, abdomen and chest.

Living with cancer

Information on living with cancer, including treatment, support and different personal experiences of cancer

Page last reviewed: 01/11/2012

Next review due: 01/11/2014