Ovarian Cancer FAQ

1. What is 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.

2. Are all ovarian tumours cancerous?

No. 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 can spread to other parts of the body, such as the pelvis and abdomen.

3. How common is ovarian cancer?

Ovarian cancer is the sixth most common cancer in women and the fifth most common cause of cancer related deaths1. It will affect 1 in 52 women in the UK during their lifetime, which means about 20 women are diagnosed with the disease each day1. Most cases occur in older women — about 8 out of 10 cases occur in women 50 or older2. However, this disease can also affect younger women.

4. What are the symptoms of ovarian cancer?

The symptoms that are most commonly reported in women diagnosed with ovarian cancer are3:

  • 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.

5. What is my chance of getting ovarian cancer?

Certain factors can increase your chance of having ovarian cancer:

  • If you are aged over 50 and have gone through menopause
  • If you have any of the following:
    • A known mutation in the BRCA1, BRCA2 and/or Lynch syndrome genes
    • A known family history of ovarian and/or breast cancer
    • Relatives of Ashkenazi Jewish descent with family history of ovarian/breast cancer

Having one or more of these risk factors does not mean you will develop ovarian cancer. The most important thing you can do is to watch for early symptoms and talk to your doctor if you are concerned.

6. Is ovarian cancer hereditary?

Whilst the majority of ovarian cancer are not inherited, about 20 to 25 percent of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer have a hereditary tendency to develop the disease. If you have relatives with breast and/or ovarian cancer, you may be at higher risk for developing ovarian cancer.

In some cases, this may be due to an inherited mutation in either the BRCA1 and/or BRCA2 gene. These genes are present in everyone, but in some people they can appear in a different form, and may lead to an increased chance of breast and/or ovarian cancer.

Your doctor can assess your medical and personal family history and advise you on your own lifetime risk of ovarian cancer.

7. What is the survival rate for someone diagnosed with ovarian cancer?

Ovarian cancer is the 5th most common cause of cancer-related deaths in women, and death rates generally increase with age. For all types of ovarian cancer, the 5-year relative survival is 46%.4

If ovarian cancer is diagnosed at the earliest stage, when it is still confined to one ovary, then up to 9 out of 10 women will still be alive 5 years later. However, only one-third of women with ovarian cancers are diagnosed in the early stages.4

Only 19% of the women diagnosed at stage 3 and 4% of women diagnosed at stage 4 will still be alive 5 years or longer after diagnosis.4

8. Can ovarian cancer be detected by a cervical smear test?

No. A cervical smear test is only used to detect cervical cancer. It cannot detect ovarian cancer.



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