Ovarian cancer 

Introduction 

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

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.

Page last reviewed: 01/11/2012

Next review due: 01/11/2014

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The 4 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

User879946 said on 13 June 2014

Last year in January, at the age of 22 I was rushed into hospital after weeks of pain, bloating, back problems and not being able to eat properly... had scans... was told I had a cyst. It wasnt until I had an operation to remove said cyst and send it off for testing ( whilst still on the operating table) that they diiscoverd it was Ovarian cancer...

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majid_brum said on 27 November 2011

My mother has just had an operation following her diagnosis and chemotherapy, the operation lasted about 2 hours and after that she was allowed home 3 days later,..

I think that if any woman has any of the likely symptoms of this she should be persistent on getting a scan, get on your doctors case because if we never my mother would probably not be with us today.. doctors and some healthcare professionals overlook it as someting else and dont bother scaning you in some cases untill its too late..

If anybody has any questions about this I shall be writing up a facebook page soon so watch this space as I will post a link up on here..

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harare said on 20 September 2011

about 6 weeks ago my sister was told that she has ovarian cancer stage 3 and was told that she will have to have surgery. Till today she has not heard from Bartholomew hospital on when she will be operated on. .For many months her GP kept on telling her that it is just an infection of the bladder and kept on giving her antibiotics. The longer she waits , the worse it is going to be, . I cant understand what the delay is on the part of the hospital. Is it because they have too many patients or lack of money? Please someone explain!

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GrandmasAngel said on 19 July 2011

My grandma died of ovarian cancer on March 25 2011. She was just diagnosed in October. I'm thinking i could get the gene and have ovarian cancer. So i'm trying to learn about it and try to fight it if it does happen. This has taught me alot. Thank you.

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Cancer and social care

If you have cancer, your first priority is medical care. But there are people who can help with other aspects of your life

Find and choose services for Ovarian cancer