Ovarian cancer happens when cells in the ovaries grow and multiply uncontrollably, producing a lump of tissue called a tumour.
Ovarian cancer, or cancer of the ovaries, is the sixth most common malignancy in females* in the UK. There are around 7,500 cases diagnosed across the UK each year. There are around 4,100 ovarian cancer deaths in the UK every year, primarily due to it being identified late, as symptoms are not always obvious until then.
Ovarian cancer mainly affects women who have been through the menopause (usually over the age of 50), but it can sometimes affect younger women. The outcome for women with ovarian cancer is generally poor, with an overall five-year survival rate of 43% (England).
Despite the relatively poor survival rates for ovarian cancer, there has been a decline in mortality rates across the UK over the last 40-50 years. This has coincided with the advent of effective chemotherapy, as well as changes in surgical practice.
Symptoms and signs
- Persistent abdominal distension (often referred to as ‘bloating’)
- Feeling full (early satiety) and/or loss of appetite
- Unintentional weight loss
- Pelvic or abdominal pain
- Increased urinary urgency and/or frequency
When to see your GP
- If you have been feeling bloated, particularly more than 12 times a month
- If you have other symptoms of ovarian cancer that will not go away
- If you have a family history of ovarian cancer and are worried that you may be at a higher risk of getting it. Your GP may consider sending you to a genetics specialist
- If you have already seen a GP and your symptoms continue or get worse, go back to them and explain this
If you are diagnosed with ovarian cancer, it will be given a “stage” between one to four. This describes the size of the cancer and how far it has spread and allows the doctors to plan the best treatment for you.
Treatment depends on how far the cancer has spread, your general health and whether you are still able or want to have children. Most people have a combination of surgery and chemotherapy.
The aim of treatment is to get rid of the cancer if possible. However, if it is too advanced to be cured, treatment aims to relieve symptoms and control the cancer for as long as possible.
Useful information describing symptoms and signs of ovarian cancer is available on www.ovarian.org.uk
- Ovarian cancer | Cancer Research UK
- Overview | Ovarian cancer: recognition and initial management | Guidance | NICE
- Home | Ovarian Cancer Action
Note: ‘Women’ may include trans men, people who are nonbinary who were assigned female at birth and cis gender women; ‘men’ may include trans women, people who are nonbinary who were assigned male at birth and cis gender men.