About Ovarian Cancer

The ovaries

ovaries and illustration of female reproductive system

The ovaries are a pair of organs located in a woman’s pelvis – the area between the hips in the lower part of the tummy. They are each about the size and shape of an almond, and make up part of the female reproductive system. The ovaries produce eggs and female hormones.

About ovarian cancer

Ovarian cancer is a disease that occurs when abnormal cells in the ovaries grow at an uncontrollable rate and form a mass of tissue known as a tumour. Many types of tumours can start in the fallopian tubes or one or both ovaries.

Some tumours are not cancerous (also known as “benign”) and never spread beyond the ovaries or fallopian tubes. However, other tumours may be cancerous (“malignant”) and may spread to other parts of the body, such as the pelvis or abdomen. Treatment for ovarian cancer often involves surgical removal of the tumours, chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy.

About 7,300 women in the UK are diagnosed with ovarian cancer and 4,100 women will die each year.1

Symptoms of ovarian cancer

The symptoms of ovarian cancer can be difficult to recognise, particularly in its early stages. This is because the symptoms are similar to those of other less serious conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS).

However, symptoms that are most commonly reported in women diagnosed with ovarian cancer are2:

  • Increased abdominal size and persistent bloating
  • Persistent pelvic and abdominal pain
  • Difficulty eating and feeling full quickly, or feeling nauseous

Other symptoms include back pain, unexplained bleeding, needing to pass urine more frequently than usual, pain during sexual intercourse, constipation and fatigue.

If you notice any of these symptoms for two or more weeks, you should go and see your doctor for an evaluation. The sooner ovarian cancer is found and treated, the better the chance of recovery.

Risk of developing ovarian cancer

1 in 52 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer during their lifetime1. However, there are certain factors that can increase that risk further:

  • Increasing age
  • Carrying a mutation in the BRCA 1/2 and/or Lynch syndrome genes
  • Having a known family history of ovarian and/or breast cancer
  • Being of Ashkenazi Jewish descent with a known family history of ovarian or breast cancer

Learn more about the importance of early detection


  1. http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/health-professional/cancer-statistics/statistics-by-cancer-type/ovarian-cancer. Last accessed May 2016.
  2. http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Cancer-of-the-ovary/Pages/Symptoms.aspx. Last accessed May 2016.
  3. http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/health-professional/cancer-statistics/statistics-by-cancer-type/ovarian-cancer/survival#heading-Three. Last accessed May 2016.