Ovarian Cancer

March is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.  

Ovarian Cancer Action have provided the following information.  For further information and advice, please click on the following link:  http://ovarian.org.uk/ovarian-cancer/

What is ovarian cancer?

The ovaries are two small glands that make up part of the female reproductive system. They have two main functions: to produce and store eggs for reproduction, and to produce the female sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone.  


Ovarian cancer occurs when abnormal cells in the ovary start to multiply, creating a tumour. If the tumour is malignant it is cancerous and, left unchecked, may grow and spread to other parts of the body.

Types of ovarian cancer

There are three types of ovarian tumour: epithelial, germ cell and sex-cord stromal.


Around 90% of ovarian cancer tumours are epithelial, the majority of which are known as serous epithelial ovarian cancer. These tumours occur most commonly in women between the ages of 40 and 60.

Stages and grades of ovarian cancer

When a woman is diagnosed with ovarian cancer she will be told what stage it is at. The stage represents how far the cancer has spread inside her body.  There are four stages of ovarian cancer.  At stage 1 the cancer is contained within one, or both of the ovaries. As the stages progress the cancer will spread further. By stage 4 it may have reached places such as the liver, the lungs and the brain. The earlier the cancer is diagnosed the easier it is to treat.


A woman who is diagnosed with ovarian cancer will also be told what grade the tumour is. Grading predicts how quickly the tumour is expected to spread.

For more information on ovarian cancer tumours, or to find out more about stages and grades, download our guide: Ovarian cancer: what you need to know.

Ovarian cancer has four main symptoms:

·         Persistent stomach pain

·         Persistent bloating

·         Difficulty eating/feeling full more quickly

·         Needing to wee more frequently


These can also be symptoms of other, less serious, conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, ovarian cysts and polycystic ovary syndrome so if you’re experiencing them it doesn’t mean you definitely have ovarian cancer.  To find out more download our booklet: Ovarian Cancer: what you need to know.

Other symptoms that you might notice include: back pain, changes in bowel habits (going more often or a lot less), and extreme tiredness for no obvious reason.

If your symptoms are:

·         Persistent

·         Severe

·         Frequent

·         Out of the ordinary

You should make an appointment to see your GP as soon as possible. Keep a record of what symptoms you are experiencing to take with you. This will help your GP make a speedier diagnosis. You can download our paper symptoms diary or search ‘Ovarian Cancer Action’ in your phone’s app store for a digital version.

Am I at risk?

Family history and genetics: If two or more relatives from the same side of your family have had ovarian cancer under the age of 50, or there has been more than one case of ovarian and breast cancer in your family, you may have a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer.


This is because you may have inherited a BRCA1/2 gene mutation. BRCA1/2 gene mutations are associated with an up to 60% chance of developing ovarian cancer. You can visit our BRCA hub for all the information, advice and support you need about BRCA1/2 gene mutations.


Age:  Ovarian cancer has a strong association with age. Currently around 84% of cases are diagnosed in women over the age of 50, and more than half of all cases in women over 65. It is however important to remember that a women can get ovarian cancer at any age so women of all ages should be symptom aware.


A long menstrual history: Ovarian cancer is linked to increased ovulations, therefore a long menstrual history can increase risk of getting the disease.  Things that contribute to a long menstrual history include: starting periods earlier, reaching the menopause at a later age and never giving birth.


Endometriosis: Endometriosis is a common condition where tissue that behaves like the lining of the womb (endometrium) is found in other parts of the body. It can appear in many different places, including the ovaries, fallopian tubes, inside the tummy, and in or around the bladder or bowel. Research shows that women who have endometriosis are at increased risk of ovarian cancer.


Hormone Replacement Therapy:  Research shows that using oestrogen-only or combined HRT increases a woman’s risk of ovarian cancer. It is thought that only 1% of ovarian cancer cases are linked to HRT use, and women should discuss all risks and benefits with their consultant when making decisions about its use.

How can I reduce my risk?

Oral contraception: recent research shows that using the combined oral contraceptive pill can reduce a woman’s risk of ovarian cancer for up to 30 years. A woman should always discuss their contraceptive options with their GP and weigh up the risks and benefits.

Giving birth and breast feeding: Both of these things help to reduce the number of ovulations a woman has during her menstrual cycle and can therefore help reduce risk of ovarian cancer.

Maintain a healthy lifestyle: trying to maintain a healthy body weight through a balanced diet and regular exercise, along with not smoking can help reduce a woman’s risk of ovarian cancer.